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Victoria’s Clean Team collects 600 used needles in a week

Number of used needles found downtown steadily increasing over 12 years
Used needles were found stuck in a tree on Pandora Avenue on Oct. 16. (Harrison Campbell photo)

This week alone, the Downtown Victoria Business Association Clean Team collected 600 used needles — nearly the same amount they collected in all of 2006, the first year of the clean team program.

“One reason would be a lot of needles we find now are naloxone,” said Rob Caunter, the manager of the Clean Team. “If a guy overdoes, they start pumping him with naloxone, and they just throw those away. One time I can understand an inappropriately disposed of needle is when you’re trying to save a guy’s life. It’s life or death.”

The Clean Team began removing graffiti, used needles and garbage 12 years ago, but Caunter said they only started finding naloxone kits in the past few years, when the fentanyl crisis began. Naloxone needles are longer than the intravenous needles, to get the drug into the body as quickly as possible. The spring inside the needle, Caunter said, is also popular for cleaning crack pipes with. But the naloxone needles only make up a very small percentage of the used needles they find, he added.

READ MORE: Needles far more prolific than public realizes, says local biohazard company

This week, Robbins Parking turned in the 600 needles they’d collected to the Clean Team. Each of their cleaning trucks carries a sharps bin. Caunter said more businesses downtown have been helping collect used needles. The Clean Team gives them a sharps bin, then picks them up once they’re full.

The Clean Team looks for new needles, garbage and graffiti several times a day, and responds to daily calls from businesses between the waterfront, Discovery, Blanshard and Belleville streets. The area spans less than two square kilometres in Victoria’s downtown.

“It’s generally the same spots,” Caunter said. Pandora and Johnson are the most common locations, as well as alleyways and Bastion Square — anywhere with easy hiding spots or out of view.

Even though there are still a few months left to 2018, this year has already almost doubled the number of used needles collected compared to last year. As of September, the clean team had recovered 5,002 needles compared to 3,271 in 2017. The amount of needles has been steadily increasing, spiking in 2016 with 4,647 needles, because of the tent city demonstration, Caunter said.

“I think we have more users, using more needles. It’s as simple as that.”

On Oct. 16, staff from a company on Pandora Avenue found used needles sticking into the bark of trees. Since Caunter has worked with the Clean Team for more than a decade, he’s seen needles in most places.

“It’s not the usual way to find them. But Pandora has trees quite close to where there are some heavy use areas. We’ve certainly seen that. That still counts as an inappropriately discarded needle beyond a shadow of a doubt. But at least the sharp end is pointing in,” he said. “That’s not a malicious disposal of a needle, it’s just a foolish and irresponsible disposal.”

There are multiple ways to safely dispose of used needles. AIDS Vancouver Island (at 713 Johnson Street) gives away two different types of portable disposal kits. The bright yellow bin can hold 70 needles, while the less conspicuous kit is almost pocket-sized, black and comes with a cooker, sterile water and a built-in section for up to 10 used needles. Both have labels identifying them as sharps bins and can be returned to AVI. Yellow metal bins are placed around downtown as well.

Caunter has another suggestion if a sharps bin isn’t handy: put a used needle in a clear water bottle.

“Then it’s in a clear, sealed container. It’s important it’s clear,” he said. Then you throw it in the garbage, and it’s done.

Businesses in downtown Victoria can call the clean team at 250-386-2238.

READ MORE: Island Health says no need for alarm over needle prick incidents in Victoria


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