Parksville politicians continue to defend city council’s proposed bylaw to limit distribution of hypodermic needles, following warnings about the bylaw’s health and legal implications from the medical health officer for the Central Island.
The NEWS reached out to Dr. Paul Hasselback to discuss the issue further.
Any bylaw that looks to limit access to health services, including clean needle distribution, must be reviewed by a medical health officer and then pass approval with the Ministry of Health.
At the Nov. 4 Parksville council meeting, Mayor Ed Mayne indicated he and Hasselback are on extreme opposite ends of belief when it comes to distribution of clean needles.
Hasselback said his work is not based on personal belief, but rather on scientific research, harm reduction best practices accepted within B.C. and previous court rulings.
“Mine’s not an opinion. … I think [Mayne] was expressing what his personal beliefs are, rather than looking at this in the context of what is the expectation requirements in this province,” said Hasselback.
Hasselback said that by attempting to eliminate the public safety risk of discarded needles on the ground, the city risks causing “significant harm” to some Parksville citizens that rely on unrestricted access to clean needles.
“Council has very clear intent. They continue to move forward on what that intent is. In a context that there’s a group of individuals who are citizens of the community that actually would be harmed by what’s proposed,” said Hasselback.
Mayne doesn’t believe some harm-reduction tactics employed in the province have worked, and takes issue with the idea of “peer-to-peer” distribution of needles – where people can pick up large batches of clean needles and personally distribute them to other community members.
The proposed bylaw would see needles given out only by authorized distributors, decided on by the city. The bylaw would also require a one-for-one exchange, bringing dirty needles back in exchange for clean ones.
“The peer-to-peer thing – nobody’s proven that that works. … The science hasn’t said. It’s just people that have come up with these ideas. Their ideas are no different than my ideas, or anybody else’s,” said Mayne.
Hasselback says that while the first people to contract those diseases because of needle distribution limitation are often substance users, diseases can quickly spread to the wider community, including people who do not use intravenous drugs.
“We certainly know from other jurisdictions that rapidly spreads out to contacts of those individuals who are perhaps just other members of the community who aren’t even aware that the person they’re in contact with, whether that’s an intimate contact of whatever nature, may be engaging in substances of some nature,” said Hasselback.
MLA for Parksville-Qualicum, Michelle Stilwell, sent a letter to Parksville council about sharps disposals after hearing concerns from citizens.
“The reason we provide, or government provides needles, is that the research shows that it decreases the likelihood of those diseases. Full stop. You could even equate it to immunizations. We know immunizations work, and they decrease the likelihood of spread of influenza. Or measles, or mumps, or any of those things. As a society, that is our goal,” said Stilwell.
While Stilwell acknowledges that needles left in parks are a big problem, she also says that it’s important to work to decrease the fear and stigma against drug users.
“Nobody wants to be pricked by a needle – nobody wants to go through that,” said Stilwell.
She says the answer lies in a well-rounded harm reduction approach.
“Nobody said don’t give out clean needles,” said Mayne. We’ve never ever said that we don’t think there should be clean needles given out. Nobody on council has ever said that.”
“I don’t want to see anyone get sick from using bad needles and all that. We’re not suggesting that at all. We’re not limiting what’s going on. What we are saying is that I have an obligation to protect the citizens of Parksville from being harmed.”
City staff have been directed by council to set up a meeting with Hasselback and the Ministry of Health in order to further discuss the complex issue.