Island Health’s chief medical health officer wants to assure people that despite three reported incidents involving needle pricks in the past week, the risk to public safety remains low.
“One of the things I really have to emphasize is how low this risk really is to the general public,” Dr. Richard Stanwick said at a Wednesday press conference at Vancouver Island Health Authority.
With Island Health’s aggressive needle distribution program in Greater Victoria doing well to keep bloodborne disease rates low among injection drug users, “even if the needles are out there, odds are they will not be containing harmful pathogens,” he said.
HAPPENING NOW - Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for @VanIslandHealth speaks to media about recent outbreak of #yyj residents finding and injuring themselves on discarded needles pic.twitter.com/numQRYbS9g— Victoria News (@VictoriaNews) January 17, 2018
Stanwick said not only are local needle cleanup crews not reporting an increase in the number of discarded rigs they collect, the spacing and circumstances of each of the three incidents does not indicate any troublesome pattern.
In the wake of three separate incidents involving unsuspecting members of the public getting pricked by hypodermic needles, Island Health and downtown service providers met Wednesday to discuss the situation.
The police were called in all three incidents, the first of which happened at the Pandora Avenue McDonald’s Restaurant, the second on Pembroke Street a couple of blocks away, and the latest after a needle was found discarded in a planter in the 700-block of Johnson Street – the second time in a week the caller encountered a needle.
According to Island Health, there are about 35 locations around the region that are distribution and collection points for needles. Daily sweeps for used needles are conducted in and around downtown Victoria by SOLID (Society 0f Living Intravenous Drug Users) outreach team members and others. Between April 1 and Sept. 30 last year, SOLID alone distributed 37,054 sterile needles and collected 30,089.
Grant McKenzie is communications director for Our Place Society, which has a temporary supervised overdose prevention site distributing harm reduction supplies and collecting used needles from those injecting drugs elsewhere. While encountering discarded needles can be unsettling, he said, the small number their group finds in common public spaces does not indicate cause for alarm.
“If there is an individual out there planting needles, then the police will deal with that,” he said, referring to the planter case. “But Our Place and SOLID and the organizations, we always clean up around our neighbourhood.”
On an average day, “we might find five needles in the large area that we patrol on our sweeps,” he said, noting that many of those are found consistently in the same locations as opposed to being discarded haphazardly. “We’re not seeing a lot of random needles just scattered around.”
Various organizations have resources to pick up found needles, including SOLID, Our Place, the City of Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association.
Island Health states that the risk of getting sick if pricked by a needle is low. If this happens to you, it is recommended to allow the wound to bleed freely, quickly wash the area with soap and warm water, do not squeeze or bleach the injured area and call the Island Health communicable disease program at 1-866-665-6626. You should visit the emergency ward within two hours for treatment and followup.