Parksville council will meet with health officials to discuss the province’s harm reduction program and distribution of needles in the community.
Mayor Ed Mayne said council has requested, for two years, a meeting to explain why the Ministry of Health rejected a proposed bylaw to regulate needle distribution in the city.
“The object of this is not to come up with anything but reasons — explanations I guess is a better choice of words,” said Mayne during council’s Feb. 7 meeting. “Explanations from these two groups as to what it is in their harms program that is being affected by what we proposed.”
During a September 2021 meeting, council had expected Dr. James Hanson, Island Health vice-president, clinical operations for Central/North Island, to speak to the issue of harm reduction and regulation of needles.
Instead, council received a presentation on indicators of health in the Oceanside region, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health from Dr. Sandra Allison, medical health officer for Nanaimo, Oceanside and Alberni-Clayoquot.
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 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 health authority and Island Health.
The special council meeting with representatives from Island Health, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is set for Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. Public attendance is limited to 40 people in the forum. The meeting will also be live-streamed on the city’s website and archived.