Watch above: a new pilot project is underway to deal with needle pickups in Saskatoon
SASKATOON – As the snow melt continues, officials are warning Saskatoon residents to keep an eye out for needles.
The Saskatoon Fire Department is now responding daily to needle sightings throughout the city.
Thankfully, the number of needles is down. This new trend has encouraged regional health officials.
“We’re finding fewer and fewer needles being improperly discarded,” said Dr. Johnmark Opondo, deputy medical health officer with the Saskatoon Health Region.
“Every year when we do our spring clean we have more and more volunteers out helping us and interestingly the amount of needles collected even when we’re actively looking year to year has become fewer and fewer.”
Data below shows last year, more needles are finding their way to needle drop boxes.
Since 2011, the amount of needles found in the city has been on the decline.
“I think with more education we’re seeing people using the appropriate waste disposal streams or sending the needles back to where they received them in the first place.”
As for critics who say one needle on the streets is too many, let alone over 13,000, Opondo hopes the public will show some compassion.
“The reason why we are providing needle exchange service is to try to keep addicts safe and to prevent them from having on top of their mental health issues contracting very serious blood-borne pathogens or diseases,” said Opondo.
At this point, fire officials say they’re responding to more than eight calls a day regarding discarded needles but instead of sending four to five firefighters to the call, they’re now only sending one.
“We’re just looking to be more efficient as a company so less staff going out, more time for things such as training, be more operationally and more fiscally responsible,” said Morgan Hackl, assistant chief of the fire department.
Starting the pilot project in mid-March, the fire department says it will continue to send a solo crew member to all needle calls through to June.
“We’ve always believed that a fire crew has to be ready within its district to respond to an emergency and so for a time we had decided that this is the way we were going to operate but today we’re looking at doing things differently.”
Whether this new way of doing things will be adopted by the department – will be decided in the next three months.
In the meantime, if you do find a needle, follow the steps below: