Northern Health (NH) has some apprehensions about a new needle buy-back program formed by Prince George Council incumbent Brian Skakun.
The program, formed by Skakun with Craig Briere and Barry Boehmer from the Prestige Group, would pay around five cents for each returned syringe and aims at combating the issue of discarded needles in the city.
In 2017, NH reported that around 90% of the 450,000 needles distributed through their program were returned to them. That still leaves around 50,000 syringes unaccounted for, which NH said doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t disposed of properly, given the many spaces set up to return needles.
For Skakun though, that number isn’t good enough.
“We can’t just sit back and let all those needles end up in the community, it’s definitely a safety issue. There’s no doubt it’s a concern,” he said.
Reanne Sanford, Regional Nursing Lead for Harm Reduction with NH, said she can appreciate the intent to do good work with a program like Skakun’s, but has concerns of her own.
“There is potential harm that can come from placing a monetary value on a used syringe,” she said.
“The concern is that people may be breaking open or tampering with sealed sharps containers with used needles in them to access those needles and handle them. So the potential of being poked and suffering a needle stick injury is quite high,” said Sanford.
She also noted that there is nothing to stop people from taking clean needles and turning them in for a profit.
Skakun didn’t feel the value on a returned syringe through his program was high enough to cause those issues.
“It’s such a small amount, people would make more going out and collecting pop cans.”
Sanford also mentioned that NH did not just collect used syringes, but also offer services, support and advocate for their clients.
According to Skakun, his group has spoken about finding a way to provide those services.
“We have approached some of the social services providers in Prince George, we want to make sure there is an opportunity for them to get some sort of help if they want it, instead of just dropping off a needle, but we have to start somewhere,” he said.
“If Northern Health had a better idea and said they could collect all the needles that go out, we wouldn’t be facing these issues. I don’t think it’s fair to be criticizing what a group like ours is doing if they won’t even get the needles back to start with.”