Mayor Ed Mayne has written a letter to express his disappointment with the provincial ministry of health’s rejection of a city bylaw that would regulate needle distribution in the City of Parksville.
“The Ministry suggests our proposal is contrary to the province’s longstanding harm reduction policy. In view of the substantial increase in overdose deaths in B.C., I would suggest the harm reduction policy appears to be largely unsuccessful,” said Mayne.
Mayne said he waited until after the provincial election campaign concluded to respond to the ministry’s letter, which was written on Sept. 29.
Stephen Brown, deputy minister of health, said Bylaw no. 1555 was turned down over a number of concerns, including access to sterile syringes.
“We did not believe that the proposed bylaw presented the most effective path forward in protecting the health and safety of British Columbians,” Brown said.
The bylaw proposed more controls on needle distribution, including a rule that no more than 10 clean needles can be handed out unless the recipient is returning an equal number of used syringes. It also would have required personnel supplying the needles to be properly trained and registered by the city.
“Currently, there is no requirement for a person who is distributing needles in our community to have medical, nursing or counselling experience,” said Mayne.
The mayor added distributors are not required to register with the ministry of health or take an orientation on how to interact with vulnerable people.
Brown said the 10 needle rule conflicts with longstanding provincial health policy, which has a goal of a sterile syringe for each injection.
The bylaw would have required distributors to provide a sharps container and an instruction to dispose of the container at the proper facility or return it to the provider.
Brown cited a requirement in the bylaw that all needles handed out must be retractable or “needleless syringes.” The bylaw defines retractable as “a needle with protective features that result in the device being blunt after use,” and needleless as “a syringe which uses the force of the liquid under pressure to pierce the skin.”
“Studies on the use of retractable single-use syringes in needle distribution programs globally have shown that many clients find them unacceptable, which will reduce [sterile needle] use by the population,” said Brown, adding mandating the more expensive type of needle, even for a single municipality such as Parksville, would have financial implications for the provincial authority and Island Health.
The mayor said the city had received many complaints and concerns from residents about used needles. The city is forced to pay hazardous materials contractors to clean up the discarded syringes, many of which are unused, according to Mayne.
“Health policies should not consider the needs of only one segment of the population, but should take into account the reduction of harmful impacts on the wider population,” he said.