Used needle found during Kid’s Expo sparks dialogue about safety

A discarded drug needle in public space, in Kelowna.
A discarded drug needle in public space, in Kelowna. Jim Douglas / Global News

The discovery of a used needle at Victoria Park, during the Kid’s Expo, has one London mother calling for more safety measures.

Daina Graves said she was eating food at a picnic table when her husband took her young son to go play; two minutes later, her husband returned holding a used syringe he’d found, its needle bent and sticking upwards.

“I was totally shocked… there [were] vendors there, so the first place I went to was a food vendor right behind us, and he was quite shocked. He didn’t know what to do or anything, so I asked him if he could call somebody — security or whatever — to dispose of the needle.”

In a post on Facebook with more than 800 shares, Graves said her son would have stepped on the needle if it wasn’t for her husband. Speaking with AM980’s Craig Needles this morning, Graves said she wasn’t able to stay and see how the situation was resolved, but believes there should have been more security to protect the community — and the children — in the area.

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“It’s kids. And it was a kid’s expo. Now it could have been lost in the wee hours of the night, who knows, but I think there should have been more security around.”

Graves also wants more sharp disposal boxes around London, and for needles distributed freely by local agencies to come with guards.

According to the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection’s Director of Counterpoint Harm Reduction Services, Sonja Burke, there are 18 sharp disposal boxes spread across the city. But their strategy to address the number of needles disposed of improperly and in public is always being worked on.

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“We need to continue to build our strategy, increase the number of needle bins that are available… demystify and destigmatize addiction and what that means and how people are struggling,”

Burke says there’s often an emotional reaction to the discovery of an unsafe, used needle, but to blame it on those who suffer from addiction is not the right approach.

“When an individual is in the throes of addiction… they’re faced with multiple fears and multiple challenges that make it difficult to do everything that we would — that they possibly can — to safely dispose of syringes.”

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She adds that addiction is a health-care issue, but it’s carries a stigma.

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“Eighty-five per cent of people who are struggling with addiction have experienced some form of trauma, and we have to look at multiple strategies to provide supports for those individuals.”

Burke says the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection is working on a marketing strategy to teach people what to do if they encountered a used needle. She says the needles they distribute do not come with a guard, but are fixed with a cap that’s removed once used.

She adds that retractable needles do exist for administering certain drugs, but are not distributed through clean needle programs because they’re not the “best practice for harm reduction.”

The Middlsex London Health Unit also distributes needles with a cap.