People could think of them as highly specialized trash cans, complete with original art on their sides.
Just over three years since putting out its first two drop boxes for used needles, the Central Alberta Aids Network Society has installed eight more units at strategic locations in Red Deer’s downtown.
The boxes were built and installed as a public service, giving people a discreet and convenient option for the safe disposal of used needles, syringes and diabetic lancets, said Jason Taylor, harm reduction co-ordinator for CAANS.
Partners in the project include the City of Red Deer, the Red Deer RCMP and the Red Deer Downtown Business Associations. Taylor estimates the cost of building and installing the boxes at about $2,000 each.
The boxes stand about waist high and have a slot in the front, similar to a letter box. Information about safe disposal of needles is posted on their fronts.
Some people have raised objections to the program, believing the boxes attract drug users and crime. Taylor counters that the boxes are placed in areas where drugs and crime already exist, to provide a safe method for getting rid of needles and other drug paraphernalia.
One of the first boxes was placed in a site at Galbraith Park that was originally considered but rejected, said Taylor.
Its location was shifted as a result of a complaint because it was viewed as an eyesore, he said.
But it’s a mistake to believe that the boxes are there for drug users only, although there has been a steady increase in drug use as the city grows, he said.
Diabetics and steroid users are also using the boxes. During its first three years of collection, CAANS picked up 5,740 needles. That includes 2,290 diabetic lancets. Other items collected from the boxes include vials and various pieces of drug paraphernalia.
At the same time, intravenous drug users have proven willing to use the boxes if they are available, rather than tossing their needles into the garbage or leaving them lying on the street, said Taylor.
Collection and disposal of the materials is contracted to a company that specializes in collection and incineration of biohazards, he said.
Artist Paul Boultbee said he was pleased with the opportunity to create original works for the eight new boxes.
“It started with me coming to them for another project I was working on. They were doing these boxes and they wanted to have art on them.”
Boultbee’s paintings were digitized and then the colours were shifted slightly to complement the colour on the boxes, which are painted brown to match the city parks format.
While graffiti has not been a big problem on the first two boxes, Taylor anticipates that Boultbee’s art may deter tagging on the new boxes.
The paintings are applied in a vinyl format that can be easily wiped clean if they are tagged, said Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director for CAANS.
Needle drop boxes are now set up at the following locations:
• Loaves and Fishes
• Great West Adventure Trail
• Snell Gardens
• 53rd Street and 46th Avenue
• Potter’s Hands
• Buffalo Hotel
• Barrett Park at Ross Street
• Rotary Recreation Park at 48th Street
• CAANS office at 4611 50th Ave.
• Rotary Park at Gaetz Avenue
Other agencies offering needle disposal are the Schizophrenia Society and the Safe Harbour Mat Program. Hilltop Pharmacy and Ross Street IDA Pharmacy offer needle exchange services.