Mayor pitches new needles-for-cash exchange program

By Thia James
August 20, 2013 - 5:02pm

Mayor Greg Dionne will draft a letter to the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region asking it to fund a new needle exchange program in the city.

The mayor wants a new program that would offer people 10 cents for each needle they turn in, as well as training for a team of people who would pick up discarded needles. Dionne will be requesting $30,000 for this initiative.

“We give money back for glass, we give money back for tin cans, we [give] money back for everything else. We do have an issue with needles all over our community, so why in the spring, why don’t we come up with a program, train a team on how to get them and give a refund and get the needles that way?”

Part of the $30,000 would go towards training the people who would be picking up discarded needles on behalf of the city, but the remainder would go towards the needle exchange refunds.

The current program isn’t working, in Dionne’s eyes. He said when the program was first devised, it was along the lines that a person brings in 10 needles and receives 10 back, as an example. “Well, we’ve drifted a long ways from that.

“And the other thing is too, I would really like to see a different colour needle in the needle exchange program, so then we can really see the figures and see what’s the cause. Because when it comes to this program, the supporters will throw up everything, that diabetics have the same colour needles, you know, everybody has the same colour needles. Well, why don’t we give it?”

He’s working on the final draft of the letter, so the health region can get it into its budget, because he said the funding will be needed in the spring.

“If they tell us to go away, and we decide to go ahead with the program, then we’ll have to go to council.”

The Prince Albert Fire Department (PAFD) currently takes care of the needle pick-ups in the city. Called ‘sharps,’ the city’s firefighters respond to calls to pick up discarded needles littered around the community. Year to date, the fire department has picked up 2,703 ‘sharps.’

Last year, in total, the fire department picked up 2,219 needles. “So we’ve exceeded the 2012 pickup rate already,” Jason Everitt, the PAFD’s deputy fire chief said.

In 2011, the PAFD picked up 4,790 needles, in 2010 they picked up 3,493 needles and in 2009 they picked up just more than 5,000 needles. “We’re kind of on par with years previous. Last year was a relatively quiet year for that.”

The PAFD has, on average, 20 dispatches for needle pick-ups each month. Everitt said that in the spring, summer and fall, it’s busier because the needles are more visible. Each needle pick-up call takes time out of the firefighters’ day – on average, it takes 30 minutes to attend to a needle pickup.

Everitt said that it doesn’t affect their ability to respond to incidents. If they get an emergency call while out on a needle pickup, the crew will attend to the emergency and then return to the pickup afterwards.

But if the fire department did not have to respond to needle pickups – if another set of city workers were responsible for that – then they could devote more time taking care of general maintenance, as well as training. “Training is a vital component of the daily duties here at the hall. A lot of time the needle pickups will come in during a training session and public safety is always our Number 1 priority so we’ll typically remove one firefighter from the training evolution and have them go do the needle pickup.”

The health region’s staff collects the needles dropped into the needle return boxes.

Health region spokesman Doug Dahl said they have heard about Dionne’s proposal. There’s currently nothing like what Dionne is suggesting in other cities in Saskatchewan.

According to health region numbers, the total number of needles returned is 1,196,854. Of those, 1,140,359 needles were returned directly, 33,000 were returned via the drop boxes and 23,495 were returned via community returns or pickups. In total, 1,278,150 needles were issued.

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On Twitter: @thiajames

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