Needle cleanup around Vernon is being suported by city officials. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Mobile needle exchange considered in Okanagan

City looks at options to combat issues of discarded needles

Vernon won’t be buying back needles, but could deliver clean needles in exchange for dirty ones, for free.

In an effort to combat the issue of discarded needles around town, politicians are looking at potential options. A buy-back program was investigated and shot down, but now a mobile needle exchange program is being looked into.

“It’s where we actually have a physical vehicle that is geared specifically to doing an exchange. It’s not isolated anymore, it can actually travel throughout the community,” said Coun. Kari Gares, who made the suggestion after seeing its effectiveness in other communities.

“This program is geared towards getting it before somebody discards it.”

While outreach teams in the area are already taking and cleaning up used needles and handing out clean ones, such efforts are limited, Gares said.

“We know there are other service providers doing it, but we also know that there is a needle issue. Some of the communities have actually experienced more needles coming back into the system than the number going out.”

One group on the ground is Folks on Spokes, visits hotspots five days a week in the morning, and by the end of August, the program had collected 348 needles.

READ MORE: Vernon hotspots cleaned of needles and garbage

But this is just a portion of the discarded needles out there, according to Coun. Scott Anderson.

“We do have a private security firm who in the same time period has collected 3,000-4,000,” Anderson said, not including the numbers collected by other groups, businesses, officials and individuals.

Coun. Dalvir Nahal isn’t sure she believes those numbers, but applauds the city’s efforts to curb the issue and wants to see more awareness is needed around local resources.

“I do feel our Folks on Spokes program is not at its full potential. Almost once a week we get complaints (from the public and businesses) and they have no idea about this program,” Nahal said.

Despite the program efforts, Coun. Scott Anderson agrees the city needs something more.

“I know it’s something, what it is is not adequate,” said Anderson, who believes the Interior Health Authority should be taking ownership, not the City of Vernon.

“This is an issue that is caused by IHA and it should be cleaned up by IHA, but they aren’t interested in it.”

The City of Vernon is considering the Folks on Spokes in the 2020 budget at $27,540. So far this year, the program has cost $11,245. It was a one-time funded investment in 2019.

“The current program structure is the best use of resources,” Vernon Community Safety Office co-ordinator Rachael Zubick said in a report to council. “It is financially prudent as well as an effective use of time.”

No matter what is done, Coun. Akbal Mund isn’t convinced the city will ever be free of this issue.

“It’s not going to stop needles from going on the ground, I think it (needle exchange) is a total waste of money.”

READ MORE: Needle buyback program fails to gain support in Vernon


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jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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