Fraser Health officials were taken to task by Port Coquitlam council for the many discarded needles used to inject drugs being found on city property.
In a community safety update to council Tuesday (Oct. 15), city bylaw staff reported 495 needles have been discovered since May 1 in 68 locations in Port Coquitlam parks. That doesn’t include, it was noted, the ones collected during daily sweeps conducted in a program funded by Fraser Health in conjunction with the 3030 Gordon Project homeless shelter.
It’s not a new issue for the city. Council and the Downtown Port Coquitlam Business Improvement Association expressed similar concerns 18 months ago to Fraser Health.
Coun. Darrell Penner complained discarded needles weren’t a problem in PoCo parks until the Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families, based in New Westminster, under contract from Fraser Health as part of a provincial harm reduction strategy, began distributing and collecting needles a few years ago.
But Fraser Health medical officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler responded the recommendation from health officials is to use a clean needle every time, so to make it safe they try to give out as many as are needed so users can have a clean needle every time. But several councillors felt Purpose was handing out way too many.
“I’ve lost track in the last couple of months of the amount of correspondence from Port Coquitlam residents coming across discarded needles,” said Mayor Brad West.
Noting many are being found in Lions, Gates and Veterans parks, he said his primary concern is needles being discarded in places frequented by children. West said the city asked the Purpose Society to stop distribution at one time, but they resumed again about two years ago. He added Port Coquitlam requested other options be developed to reduce the number being found in the community but “they’ve basically said no.”
“This is something we’re going to have to continue to push for. I’m not satisfied with the status quo. Not only harm to the public, but the amount of staff that are having to be dedicated to picking up needles,” said West. “This model of distribution has been rolled out into our community without discussion, let alone permission, from this city and this council.”
West said it was Victoria bureaucrats who decided the strategy was an appropriate way to reduce health issues.
“I don’t accept that at face value. There should be a discussion with the community about the appropriateness of that or the consequences,” said West. “Right now what’s being done is not working for the parents or others in Port Coquitlam who are finding discarded needles in parks, trails and playgrounds.”
Katharine Moriarty, a regional harm reduction coordinator for Fraser Health, told council 23 needle disposal units have been installed in the region, including three in the Tri-Cities, in the last 12 months. One of those is in downtown Port Coquitlam behind the Tri-Cities Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centre on Elgin Avenue.
Moriarity said the disposal units have had varied success across the region with the best by far being in Chilliwack where 3,000 to 6,000 needles are collected weekly. She added the units haven’t caused any problems of vandalism or breakage.
Tyler told council the health authority is willing to work with the city on installing more and determining where where they should go.
“Right now they’re based on convenience, but we could be more strategic on it,” said Tyler. “We’re ready to implement some of these things in this community to the extent that you are willing and able. We may find some hot spots on municipal land and we would maybe have a discussion on putting a needle box on the land.”
But a perturbed West wasn’t satisfied with what he was hearing from Tyler and Moriarty. He said although needles are being found in city parks he would never support putting a disposal box in a playground in Lions Park.
“To me [installing disposal boxes] doesn’t address the heart of the issue,” said West. “I just fear we’re going to go around and around like we have for two years.
“We want to see a different distribution model in Port Coquitlam that reduces the volume of needles being distributed in Port Coquitlam and that’s not the position of Fraser Health.”
Tyler and Moriarity suggested the city provide a link on its website to Fraser Health’s webpage on how to dispose of needles. Although Tyler said Fraser Health has heard the city’s concerns, West said the words are platitudes.
“This should not have come as a surprise to you,” said West. “What I have not heard is an open mind about how to distribute these harm reduction supplies.
“Maybe we should be speaking to the minister of health or others at the provincial level because I don’t believe you’re going to alter from your course. I don’t know how I am going to answer to taxpayers and residents who want to enjoy our parks. My answer can’t be to go to a website. I want to have a response to those people, and right now they don’t have one.”