A Penticton pharmacy is attempting to solve the issue of discarded drug paraphernalia in public spaces by offering 5 cents for every used needle returned to the downtown pharmacy.
Sunrise Pharmacy owner Joelle Mbamy says its mandate since the business opened in 2012 is to serve the people of the downtown core, including the homeless.
The Main St. pharmacy already offers harm reduction and naloxone kits. Mbamy says this was the next step in making a difference.
“As a pharmacist, having a passion for health for our population and making sure they live in a safe environment pushed me to come up with this idea,” she said.
“With this program, we find that they become more responsible and they are very determined to make Penticton a safe place to be.”
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Mbamy says more than 5,600 used needles have been returned in the past six days. The program launched on July 6.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so booming, but I’m very pleased,” she said.
One of those people collecting discarded needles is a 33-year-old man who wanted to go by the name “CJ.”
The Calgary native says he’s homeless and struggles with drug addiction. He said collecting discarded needles from public spaces like parks and schools is empowering.
“I think it’s good for the homeless. It gives an incentive to clean up and it helps the residents not be as upset about all the paraphernalia and the mess around.”
He said public outrage concerning discarded needles and the stigma associated with the homeless is hurtful.
“I’m really polite; I was brought up to be polite and respectful. To just have that stigma attached to me and just to automatically treat me negatively, it really hurts.”
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CJ suggests more resources and programming for the homeless in Penticton would stem the issue.
“If there was more shelters and more programming, it probably wouldn’t be as so noticeable,” he said.
As far as child safety, Mbamy said she won’t pay out underage people who may be tempted to collect discarded needles to line their pockets with a bit of change.
“We strongly recommend that the children don’t get involved. This is an adult issue. If any child finds a needle, we recommend that they contact their parents, a guardian or an adult passing on the street,” she said.
Mbamy’s 18-year-old daughter, Donna Mbamy-Conci, is the pharmacy assistant.
“As a youth myself, finding out that children are at risk of catching HIV or Hepatitis C is devastating to me and I think this program is amazing because we’re bringing out awareness,” she said.
“I really feel like we’re making a difference and I love how it’s involving everyone in our community.”
Mbamy runs a non-profit organization that’s covering the costs associated with the needle return program.
She says they will continue to run it as long as there is demand in the community.
The Interior Health Authority (IHA) says all Interior Health public health centres, mental health and substance use and primary care clinics, as well as all community agencies who distribute harm reduction supplies also dispose of used needles.
The health authority says when individual’s access harm reduction supplies they are also offered a sharps disposal container and are advised on how and where to safely dispose of needles.
The City of Penticton, in partnership with local non-profits, is also installing additional sharps disposal bins around town.