Parksville city council has advanced a proposed bylaw that would regulate the distribution of hypodermic needles in the city.
At a July 3 committee of the whole meeting, council directed staff to research the legal procedures to prepare a bylaw regulating the unrestricted distribution of hypodermic needles to individuals in the city, including a requirement that these individuals return used needles to the distributor for safe disposal before being provided with more. The proposed bylaw would also require needles be labelled with names of distributors to enable identification of source for invoicing of costs. It also requires distributed needles to be retractable.
At a July 3 regular council meeting, the bylaw was passed unanimously to move to third reading but will first be sent to the Ministry of Health for acceptance or further direction.
Coun. Teresa Patterson said she supports first and second reading of the bylaw but believes council needs further clarification from the Ministry of Health.
“I don’t believe that this can be enforced and I also don’t feel that an authorized (harm reduction) distributor is going to put their name on a needle,” Patterson said. “From someone who is a diabetic and uses four needles a day… there’s a lot of unanswered questions for me at this point.”
Coun. Adam Fras said the proposed bylaw is important for the safety of the community.
“We’ve seen over the years this problem has only gotten worse… it’s becoming a huge community concern, it’s been resulting in thousands of improperly disposed of dangerous needles all throughout our community,” Fras said. “It’s resulted in city staff being poked and residents here in Parksville injured, parents that are worried sick for their children’s safety and the ability to play outside, visit our playgrounds and even attend field trips.”
Fras added he believes the issue of used needles being left in parks and other public areas is beyond being exclusively a health care issue.
“Since we are the decision-makers and the experts on the impacts to our city, that’s why I think it’s not only appropriate for us to be considering this bylaw but to ensure that we continue to move forward on having harm reduction including the safety and comfort for our entire community,” Fras said.
Provisions in the draft bylaw also state people or agencies distributing harm reduction supplies would need to be registered with the city, and distribution is not permitted from city-owned land without a resolution from council.
Island Health medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said harm reduction supplies are a health service and that, “essentially what Parksville council is proposing is restricting the access to health services.”
“We have a variety of different beliefs in the province of B.C. that we shouldn’t be putting barriers to accessing health services in place,” Hasselback said. “In essence, looking at the wording in the bylaw, I would be quite concerned that that’s exactly what’s going to occur here.”
Hasselback said under the Community Charter, a public health bylaws regulation requires a city that is proposing a bylaw that would restrict citizens from accessing health services, get approval first from the Minister of Health.
“In order for this to go forward, I think the city needs to provide stronger arguments than they currently have,” Hasselback said. “Needles are actually manufactured presumably outside the province. They are purchased at a provincial level. You would be compromising the sterility and actually increasing risk for diseases by requiring that they be labelled.”
Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne said he’s never been more in favour of a bylaw.
“I believe that we have an obligation to protect the 14,000 people of Parksville,” Mayne said. “I know if the rest of council feels as strong as I do, we will get pushback from a few individuals and by various government agencies who have different views than our citizens. Be prepared for an onslaught of emails and letters from the so-called experts, those that claim to know more about this than we do. The same ones that have allowed the addiction problem to become an epidemic.”
Mayne said he’s not opposed to providing clean needles to those in need, but that individuals must return used needles in order to get clean ones.
“The users have to take some responsibility here for their action, we need to hold the different distributors accountable,” Mayne said. “If the province says ‘no you can’t do this,’ then I want to stand up on the desk and scream from the top of my lungs to the people of Parksville about the fact that we’re trying to protect them.”
The province provides collection services as well as distribution services of harm reduction supplies, Hasselback said, and that implementing a process where individuals would have to exchange their used needles in order to receive new needles is not recommended.
“In terms of the volume of sharps that are distributed in the province and the Island, and the volume that is returned, are actually pretty close, it’s like 98 per cent,” Hasselback said. “If we’re looking at a place like the Island, we’re actually talking in excess of a million needles a year… when we find one needle in a park that becomes, for some people, a situation that leads to hysteria.”
In regard to the proposed bylaw stating all needles must be retractable, Hasselback said the reason Island Health doesn’t distribute retractable needles currently isn’t because of cost.
“Retraction is a manual retraction and someone who’s using isn’t necessarily going to activate the retracting component,” Hasselback said. “[Retractable needles] have been utilized in other settings totally unsuccessfully.”
Hasselback said he believes Parksville council should embrace the harm reduction services that are currently in place.
“Rather than trying to reject and treat people in a discriminatory fashion, embrace their duty as a council to meet the needs of all citizens,” he said. “We do have a portion of the population that continues to use substances and we need to ensure that they are receiving the best available services that we can provide.”