September 27, 2017 6:11 pm
Updated: September 27, 2017 9:08 pm

Penticton fire chief calls for drug consumption site, needle exchange program to combat drug epidemic

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Penticton’s fire chief is calling for the establishment of a supervised drug consumption site and a needle exchange program in the downtown area.

“I believe that safe injection sites are a mechanism to reduce the threat to the community,” fire chief Larry Watkinson said.

Watkinson’s comments come in the wake of increasing calls to respond to drug overdoses and a spike in used needles being discarded in public spaces.

Watkinson said the increase in discarded needles is a testament to the severity of the addictions crisis in B.C.

“The needles are the outcome of a much greater problem,” he said.

The Okanagan Skaha School District also wants to see action taken in the wake of 125 discarded syringes discovered on school property single mid-August.

That is up from two to five needles usually picked up annually.

Director of Facilities Doug Gorcak said the school district is training staff on how to properly dispose of needles and is educating teachers, parents and students on what to do if they come across one.

“It’s been a lot of concern for teachers and students and parents,” Gorcak said.

Watkinson said a needle exchange program would promote proper disposal.

“The agencies that are giving the needles aren’t actually taking them back and that’s where I think the problem lies,” he said. “If we’re dispensing needles, we need to have a mechanism to retrieve them back from the users.”

But harm reduction advocates say needle exchange programs don’t work.

“They found that people were hesitant so if it wasn’t convenient for them to come back and get clean needles, they would just use their used needles,” said Daryl Meyers, Executive Director, Pathways Addictions Resource Centre.

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Meyer’s agency hands out clean needles, but admits more needs to be done to encourage safe disposal.

“There hasn’t been probably a whole lot of education around that, so that is one of the things that we are going to be working on,” she said.

Meyers suggested the needle disposal box program in Penticton should be expanded.

There are currently disposal boxes in the public washrooms at Gyro Park and Rotary Park.

“Possibly everywhere there is a garbage can have a needle disposal box there so when the garbage gets picked up the needles get picked up as well.”

Gorcak said the school district also supports the hiring of a dedicated mental health liaison RCMP officer.

“We are also working with the Penticton RCMP to hopefully secure a mental health officer to help the ones that are suffering with these addictions possibly break free of the problems that they face.”

The Interior Health Authority said in a statement that it recognizes the public’s concern regarding improperly disposed needles in Penticton.

“We are committed to continue working with our partners to improve clean up and access to safe needle disposal options.”

IHA said it is not looking to apply to Health Canada to open a supervised consumption site in Penticton at this time.

Watch: Discovery of over 50 needles on Vernon school property ‘disgusting and disheartening’

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