Parksville mayor expresses frustration with health officials over discarded needles

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Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne is frustrated with Island Health officials’ response to council concerns about discarded needles in the community.

Council expected Dr. James Hanson, vice-president, clinical operations for Central/North Island, to speak to the issue of harm reduction and regulation of needles, as was laid out in the agenda for the Sept. 20 regular meeting.

“We hadn’t intended on coming to speak to the needles. But when we did talk last, we had three direct actions around harm reduction, one of which was to work with our providers and those in the space to reduce the volume and discourage the waste of needles in the community,” said Hanson, who attended via Zoom.

Instead, council received a presentation on indicators of health in Oceanside, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health from Dr. Sandra Allison, medical health officer for Nanaimo, Oceanside and Alberni-Clayoquot.

“I’m very disappointed in the ministry of health and Island Health as well,” said Mayne. “We want a conversation. This problem is getting worse. It’s not getting better. Every year since we’ve been here, the numbers have increased.”

Proposed bylaw Regulation of Hypodermic Needle Distribution Bylaw, 2019, No. 1555 was rejected by the provincial ministry of health in May 2020 over a number of concerns, according to a September 2020 letter sent to Mayne from Stephen Brown, deputy minister of health.

“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 in the letter. 

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.

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 also 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, would have financial implications for the provincial authority and Island Health.

Mayne said, during the meeting, he was frustrated with communication from the ministry of health and Island Health. He said his concerns were passed from Health Minister Adrian Dix to Brown to Island Health. 

“You want us to do all these things for you and yet somebody can’t even come and sit down across the table and have a conversation with us. We delayed our meeting from last May to current, so we could meet in person and we end up with a virtual situation,” he said.

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