A popular hidden corner in downtown Red Deer where drug users get high and leave their needles and garbage behind (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

City calls on province to pick up syringe debris costs

Red Deer city council

Red Deer city council says it’s time the province paid the cost of picking up syringe debris in the city.

A report to council said a shift in the past few years from stimulant usage to increased opiate usage, including fentanyl, likely resulted in increased needle use.

The city’s Public Works and Emergency Services departments expect to spend $33,000 annually on pickups. Public Works staff collected 7,323 needles between January and October 2016.

Parks department is responsible for the most needle pick-up and spent over $78,000 camp cleanup costs in 2016.

Red Deer Downtown Business Association’s Clean Team, which is also city funded, has increased its cleanup efforts and expects to spend $9,000 annually.

Community agency Turning Point gave out 422,675 needles in 2014-15 throughout Central Alberta as part of its harm reduction program that is funded by Alberta Health. That number increased to 529,863 in 2015-16.

Turning Point also collects needle debris. Some may be disposed of in other ways like at pharmacies, but typically about one third does not return to Turning Point.

On Monday, council unanimously recommended that Alberta Health should assume responsibility for needle cleanup by working with the city to either fund the current city program or contract an agency to deliver 24-hour pickup service. In the meantime, the city should promote its 24-hour call line for needle pickup — 403-342-8238 — as well as 211 which can be easily remembered and provides multi-lingual service.

“What has become very apparent is the fact that there are unintended consequences because the provincial government does not have a methodical plan for the return of those needles and that has potentially direct health and safety impacts for our general public,” Mayor Tara Veer said on Monday.

“Our request tonight was to ask the provincial government, because it is a provincial program on the distribution, to accept responsibility and develop intentional, methodical means of ensuring the return of that needle debris to the provincial program.”

Coun. Ken Johnston said many people don’t realize that needle debris is an Alberta Health issue.

“Here we are, another downloaded issue at the feet of the city. It is time that our provincial partners recognize that,”

Johnston said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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