Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema explains the authority’s concerns about needle buyback programs to Vernon council Monday. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema explains the authority’s concerns about needle buyback programs to Vernon council Monday. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon councillor takes IHA to task over needle program

Dalvir Nahal surprised by authority's lack of enthusiasm to get involved in buyback program

Interior Health will listen to ideas about a needle buyback program in Vernon.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal questioned IHA medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema about the authority’s resistance to look at a deposit program. Nahal brought the matter to Mema’s attention after a Vernon woman was poked by a discarded needle recently at Kin Beach.

RELATED: Woman steps on used needle at Kin Beach

“Interior Health’s statement that said people are being put at risk of being poked by a needle in a buyback program is unfair because a lot of the public are being poked by needles now,” said Nahal.

RELATED: Interior Health against needle buyback programs

A Penticton pharmacy has started a buyback program to deal with discarded needles in the Peach City. The pharmacy offers five cents for every used needle brought into the pharmacy so they can safely transport them to Interior Health to be disposed of.

The program, in its first week, had more than 1,000 needles turned in.

RELATED: Penticton pharmacy offering used needle return program

In a news release, IHA said other communities across B.C. have tried to implement similar programs but were not feasible.

IHA cited safety concerns such as examining and counting needles and the increased chance of being poked, as well as paying people for used needles may result in people stealing or breaking into sharps containers, or people requesting needles then returning them to make a profit.

Mema said IHA welcomes ideas from the community who want to do something about the discarded needles issue.

“That said, there is a way to bring ideas forward,” said Mema. That mechanism is for communities that have a community action team to bring those ideas there. These are the people working toward these goals, including IHA.”

Mema said IHA has a process for needle retrieval.

“We have points where needles can be taken,” she said. “We won’t retrieve needles. That’s where we need help from the community. From what I’m hearing, there has been great success in Vernon with peer-led programs and community cleanups.”

Mema said IHA is not trying to shut down good intentions.

“Come to us, come to me, my staff and discuss these ideas,” said Mema, a mother who said she worries about her kids getting poked by a discarded needle or cut on loose glass when they play in a park.”

“If Vernon wants to do a buyback program, I would love to have a discussion with the proponents. We never said it’s something we wouldn’t talk about. I’m open to a lot of discussion about any program that the community will propose to take care of the issues of the needles.”

The City of Vernon, on Monday, as part of the Activate Safety Task Force recommendations, voted to ask IHA to review its needle distribution system “to find a balance between harm reduction and the public nuisance of abandoned needles.”

It will also match IHA’s contribution of two large steel needle containers, meaning Vernon will get four such devices. But the city voted against funding a needle refund program, instead opting to investigate a private model.


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