By Lethbridge Herald on June 4, 2018.
Recent and ongoing concerns in the community regarding needle debris being found around the city triggered a response from the mayor on Monday.
In a letter posted on the City’s website, Mayor Chris Spearman said Lethbridge, like the rest of Canada, is in the midst of a rapidly escalating public health crisis arising from the use of highly-addictive opioids and other drugs.
“There’s been a lot of information on social media,” Spearman said during a phone interview on Monday afternoon. “Parents are concerned about the safety of their children.”
The City initiated the Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use in November 2016 in order to work pro-actively and as a community on the issue.
The coalition works with community partners to respond as the crisis evolves. Spearman said efforts continue to be made to ensure the safety of local residents.
“Drug and needle debris in public places is a troubling and challenging issue for Lethbridge as well as cities across Canada and the globe,” the statement reads. “Parents in particular are understandably alarmed by the risk discarded needles pose to their children.”
It further states the coalition has been working for more than a year to minimize the risk to the public while preventing overdose deaths and preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C into the city’s population.
In the past year, the City of Lethbridge has:
• Funded the ARCHES Needle Pickup Hotline;
• Developed a Safe Needle Disposal Guide for city residents, which includes advice for parents of small children;
• Supplied needle disposal boxes in more than a dozen areas; and
• Recently allocated provincial funding for homelessness to expand the Downtown BRZ Clean Sweep program to supplement other efforts to deal with needle debris in the community.
In addition, Parks staff are trained in the safe handling and cleanup of needle debris.
Spearman said the City has made applications for a detox centre and an intox centre.
“A detox centre of eight beds is scheduled to open in September,” he said. “But Medicine Hat already has 18.
“And we need a safe sobering site, or intox centre. We were encouraged to apply for one, and we did so in February, but we’ve heard nothing back.”
Spearman said there have been 15,000 uses at the supervised consumption site since it was opened three months ago.
“That’s 15,000 that’s not happening somewhere in the community,” he said. “That’s been positive. What we need to do is try and get more people using the site.”
He said the public was wrong to assume all needles were coming from the ARCHES clean needle program.
“They have a very controlled process with detailed tracking and an exceptional return rate,” Spearman wrote. “They do not hand out needles by the handful to local clients, as a few have mistakenly suggested.”
He said residents should be more concerned about “drug dealers selling needles with syringes pre-loaded with fentanyl and who-knows-what-else.”
“I know that the Lethbridge Police Service is working every day to arrest drug traffickers up and down the supply chain to slow the flow of illicit drugs into our community,” he wrote.
Spearman asked residents to read up on how they can safely deal with discarded needles, and for parents to talk to their children about avoiding needles and what to look for.
Please report found needle debris to the Needle Pickup Hotline at 403-332-0722 with details on the location so it can be removed promptly and recorded.
“As this crisis continues to evolve, the City of Lethbridge remains committed to the safety of our community,” Spearman wrote in closing. “And with our partners, we will continue to seek effective ways to reduce the incidence of needle debris in public places.”
Learn about the work of the coalition at lethbridge.ca/opioidcoalition.
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