Local businesses are speaking up that discarded needles in Greater Victoria are far more common than the general public might realize.
John Espley, the marketing and communications officer for B.C. Hazmat Management, says his company makes about one or two calls per week to remove needles and other suspected drug paraphernalia from businesses, parks and residential areas on the South Island.
Espley was one of many local businesses to speak up in response to Wednesday’s press conference about needle pricks by the Island Health’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick.
“A month ago we found 200 used needles in one garbage can, and the paraphernalia that goes with it,” Espley said. “I don’t want to scare the wits out of everyone, I just want them to be aware, and be careful.”
B.C. Hazmat Management responds to calls all over the South Island, Espley said. However, many are focused on dealing with the issue downtown.
Jeremy Petzing, owner of The Local restaurant in Bastion Square, says it’s time to address the issue of discarded needles downtown.
“Victoria generally is a very clean city and safe city, however, in the same sentence there’s more evidence of leftover drug paraphernalia throughout the city and evidence at Old Town Victoria,” Petzing said. “I’ve spoken to many businesses downtown that there’s a lot more evidence of it in the last two years.
Sgt. Andy Stuart of Saanich Police’s community engagement division spends most days on the front lines in Saanich, including its many parks. Stuart said recently that his team routinely finds needles left behind at makeshift campsites and in urban areas (a common issue Saanich Parks crews).
Speaking for himself, a longtime community member, Petzing would like to see a decrease in the use of drugs, intravenous or otherwise, with the threat of fentanyl.
“Its extremely sad, I know people who are gone because of it, people need to stop doing drugs,” Petzing said. “We have to help these people and get this fixed, we have a most beautiful city, we need to address this proactively and not sweep it under the rug.”
Petzing is an advocate for a safe injection site but also suspects the availability of needles is not helping. Our Place, however, made their decisions to provide clean needles based on circumstantial evidence.
“The give-a-needle, take-a-needle model doesn’t work, we tried a few years ago,” said Our Place director of communications Grant McKenzie. “It didn’t reduce the number of Hep C and HIV transmission because transporting needles is dangerous. People would get lazy and would end up using a dirty needle, and it’s much more effective to have a clean supply of needles.”
It might surprise some to learn it’s considered bad form among the intravenous drug-using community to randomly discard needles and drug paraphernalia, McKenzie said.
“It’s a self regulated issue.”
Again, the problem is not just downtown.
While B.C. Hazmat Management is often confused with being a provincial agency, it is not. However, they are the only provincially accredited company on Vancouver Island to deal with land-based spills. Dealing with sharps, needles and discarded drug paraphernalia is a growing part of their business. They also train municipal employees and businesses, such as hotel staffs, to deal with handling the materials.
A recent call by a property management company led to a search of the immediate area behind a building where needles were spotted.
“What’s common for us is we then find other needles, we know where to look,” Espley said. “And it’s not that uncommon to find needles with blood in the syringe.”
Besides the obvious risk of being pricked by a needle is the risk of fentanyl exposure.
“We read about the emergency crews who have overdosed on the residue,” Espley said. “Anyone who isn’t trained to clean up [needles suspected of drug use] is putting themselves in the way of danger. A dust or liquid can be on the outside of the needle or syringe, you don’t need to be pricked.”
When working biohazard tasks the staff of Sidney-based B.C. Hazmat Management use medical hemostat pliers.
“We wear sharps gloves but still don’t pick up the needle,” said Espley, who is trained in everything the company does.
“Fentanyl and carfentanil, these don’t just risk your own life they risk other people’s lives, you have to be careful. Sometimes needles can be quite hidden, whether it’s on purpose or accident, we have learned to search thoroughly and, it’s not uncommon [to find them in a dangerous place] where someone would have easily been poked.”
What to do if pricked by a needed? 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. Visit the emergency ward within two hours for treatment and followup.