Mobile needle swap pitched

Vernon Coun. Kari Gares proposed the city investigate the establishment of a mobile needle exchange to combat random discarding of used sharps.

Her recommendation came before council at their regular meeting on Monday. It was part of a return of discussions surrounding the 2018 Activate Safety Task Force recommendations, instigated by Gares. It came about after a suggestion to offer cash refunds for used needles was rejected.

"Can we ask staff to look at mobile needle exchange program instead, hopefully in partnership with IHA (Interior Health) and other service providers? The benefit is it's not isolated anymore, it can travel around the community," Gares said. "We can partner with other service providers."

Gares said she'd be looking for partnership with IHA to help fund the program.

"This would be a pilot project so it would be trackable," Gares said.

Coun. Brian Quiring wondered if it should be the IHA driving the bus.

"Is there synergy for OPS (Overdose Prevention Site) and a needle exchange program?" Quiring asked council. "This isn't a city thing, it's an IHA thing."

But possible deflections to other jurisdictions did not deter Gares from pursuing a solution within council.

"It's become a municipal issue," she said. "It might be an opportunity to pair with IHA on a secondary service. There's no guarantee that people will leave their homes for an overdose prevention site. Seventy-one per cent of people overdose in their homes."

Gares said she is talking about doing this on a much larger scale with service providers to make sure the programs are wide-scale.

Coun. Scott Anderson took it a step further and suggested that the IHA should be the ones coordinating a needle exchange.

"This should be handled by IHA, but they won't do that and they are not interested in it," Anderson said. "They are only interested in harm reduction. It's something proven to be effective in other communities."

Coun. Dalvir Nahal wondered if there's more that can be done to raise awareness of the Folks on Spokes program.

"Many businesses are not even aware of it," Nahal said.

Folks on Spokes responds to calls from businesses of discarded needles and collects them.

Coun. Akbal Mund suggested a mobile unit would have little impact. 

"A mobile unit is not going to solve the problem of needles being left on the ground," Mund said.

Council voted to have city administration look at the potential of an exchange program and report back to council at a future meeting.


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