With drug poisoning ‘crisis’ as backdrop, public health asks city for more safe disposal bins
Council has been asked to approve at least two more safe disposal bin sites in Kawartha Lakes for used drug paraphernalia.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, chief medical officer of health for Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes and Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRDHU) and Dane Record, executive director of the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN), made this request of council recently.
Bocking and Record argued that the sites are needed, and their presence will ensure that less used drug paraphernalia will be disposed of in public places.
“We have a drug poisoning crisis in HKPR,” Bocking said. “We had 95 visits to emergency rooms to deal with drug overdoses in 2022, and 17 of those ended up in death.”
Bocking seemed to surprise many on council when she presented statistics showing that the average drug user in Kawartha Lakes is between 25-44. Bocking said this demographic is very “over-represented” based on their actual share of the total population.
Bocking added that likely the real number of drug emergencies and overdoses are much higher than the 95 officially reported as many addicts do not attend Ross Memorial Hospital’s emergency ward, fearful of what might happen once immediate health issues are treated.
She explained to council that the health unit embraces a four pillared approach to dealing with drugs and substance abuse and their multi-pronged strategy includes prevention and education, harm reduction, treatment and community safety and enforcement.
The bulk of Bocking’s time was spent on harm reduction and what that means to the public health unit.
“We aim to reduce the harms associated with drug usage, we don’t expect the individuals to stop all usage immediately, and we meet people where they are at (in their journey with addiction)”, Bocking said. “Strategies for harm reduction could mean increased access to new injection and inhalation supplies, provide more safe disposal spots for used equipment so the needles and other paraphernalia are not left in the community, more education on supplies and their use and provide increased access to Naloxone.”
Bocking said HKPR and PARN want to create connections with those who are experiencing addiction with the goals to decrease overdose deaths, decrease the spread of blood-borne infections, reduce trips to local emergency rooms, ensure less drug related equipment is found by bystanders and increase the numbers who participate in treatment options.
“These kinds of initiatives,” Bocking said, “do not lead to increased substance abuse or attract more people to drugs. There is also no evidence that harm reduction programs lead to an increase in drug-related crime in surrounding neighbourhoods.”
Record, who is on the frontline of this drug poisoning crisis, believes that Kawartha Lakes needs at least two more community bins for the safe collection of drug paraphernalia. He proposed two potential locations, one located at 68 Lindsay Street North and one located closer to the downtown potentially near the Salvation Army Thrift Store, just off Kent Street.
“We have talked to the people who are living the experience,” Record said. “These people have chosen the bin locations. The bins do not have to be bright yellow and ugly. We have talked to local artists who want to beautify where the “sharps” (needles) go. We are currently working with 580 clients through the needle/syringe program and if there is a place to drop off their stuff that is well advertised and clearly marked it will happen.”
Record said in 2023 the program distributed close to 50,000 clean new needles across HKPR and only 13,657 were returned, a concerningly low 28 per cent return rate.
“Folks have to know where to drop off their sharps,” Record told council. “They shouldn’t have to call Public Works for this information. Folks need to be educated and informed as we attempt to beautify the community. These bins can look however you might like, but they need to be clearly identified as “sharps bins” so people do not place their garbage or library books in them.”
When Bocking and Record were done, several council members had questions or statements for the presenters.
Councillor Ron Ashmore wanted more data on what was being done about treatment.
“Treatment is what we would like to see more of. Don’t we need more emphasis on treatment?” Ashmore asked.
Bocking responded that within the health care system the province is placing more emphasis on treatment and that despite the addition of more treatment beds in Peterborough the need is always there for more spots.
Ashmore then asked about the location of the boxes, particularly their proximity to public green spaces, how secure they are from theft and how and who would be responsible for the disposal of the medical waste that would accumulate in the boxes.
“The boxes are locked and secured,” Record said. “We are trained in their safe disposal. We are the only one with the keys and if a problem were reported we would respond within 24 hours.”
Councillor Eric Smeaton thanked the presenters and shared that many on council would be attending a gathering of rural council members next week where homelessness and addiction were expected to be “hot topics of conversation.”
Mayor Doug Elmslie wanted to know with so many drugs now being inhaled, rather than through needles, how can a safe site for education and usage anywhere in the province could be squared with the provinces ban on smoking in indoor spaces.
Bocking agreed with the challenge presented in the mayor’s question suggesting that without appropriate HVAC equipment and protection for the workers at the clinics, inhaling drugs there under supervision could be problematic.
Councillor Pat Warren wanted to know what the province and the federal government are doing regarding ensuring that the current supply of street drugs is made safer than it currently is. Warren referenced Portugal, a nation that is now inspecting and supplying most drugs available in that nation with an eye to eliminating overdoses.
Bocking said there were some encouraging pilot projects in British Columbia and Australia that report fewer overdoses when the supply of drugs is more rigidly controlled, but that there are no local programs experimenting with that option to the best of her knowledge.
Council is expected to vote on the approval of additional safe drop off sites on Jan. 30 at their next regular meeting.