Thinking collectively in stopping ‘this scourge, sharps in this community that are not getting retrieved’

city_scope_logo-cmykThe 70 or so minutes discussing Southwestern Public Health’s sharps program this past Monday exceeded the length of the majority of council meetings in the past year.
And, when Mayor Preston wrapped up the discussion, nothing had been resolved as to why is it the city’s responsibility to undertake disposal of discarded sharps – hundreds of thousands of them each year – when it is the health unit that dispenses them.
And, that is not a misprint. In 2019, the health unit distributed about 438,000 of them throughout its coverage area with about a third of those being returned after use.
The health unit is proposing a collaborative partnership with the city whereby it would be responsible for disposing of the sharps at an estimated annual cost of $65,000 per year.
As Coun. Joan Rymal duly noted the city is already on the hook for about $100,000 annually for sharps disposal. The three or four large bins around the city need to be cleaned out several times a week because the numbers dropped off as opposed to the twice a month the health unit feels would suffice under the partnership.

There was little support amongst members of council for the health unit proposal, something Coun. Gary Clarke tagged as “a one-way partnership.”
He noted, “We’re paying the social costs. I just think it should be shared amongst other jurisdictions in a more even way.
“It’s a great program, I like the way it’s targetted. It is based on the research that is needed. I just don’t think the citizens of St. Thomas should be picking up the tab.”
Coun. Jeff Kohler would like to see the health unit’s sharps program become a strict exchange program to dramatically reduce the number of discarded sharps.

“We’re in the waste management business, I’ll give you that. I’ve got a line item in our budget for waste management. The rest of it truly does fall far more under the health unit’s distribution and recovery point of view.”

“If I’m going to come to you for a needle, I don’t get another needle until I exchange that needle with you.
“When we look at harm reduction, we totally forget about the people that potentially could be harmed because these needles are laying all over the community. I have an objection to that.”
It sounds like a fair assumption, however, read the item below for an insight into the downside of a needle exchange program.
Coun. Joan Rymal cut to the chase, calling the proposed partnership “unrealistic,” in light of the health unit’s schedule of just two pickups a month when the city is now emptying the disposal bins several times a week because they are full.
“I’m concerned about the cost,” advised Rymal. “I think the $65,000 is probably unrealistic and we’re looking more at $100,000.”
As he has done with several other healthcare-related issues, Mayor Joe Preston reminded council that is a provincial responsibility and what the health unit is proposing is another example of healthcare “creep.”
He conceded, “We’re in the waste management business, I’ll give you that. I’ve got a line item in our budget for waste management. The rest of it truly does fall far more under the health unit’s distribution and recovery point of view.”
Preston continued, “I’m looking for the partnership to be a little more partner-ish. And I’m being very polite right now. Off-screen we could talk a lot tougher about it.
“If you think our cost would be about $50,000, great. I’ll send you a check and send every call (for sharps pickup) your way and the rest of needle recovery just became Southwestern Public Health.
“Are you in?”
Preston duly noted the city already sends approximately $800,000 annually as a mandated grant to the health unit, perhaps they can draw from that any money needed for sharps recovery.
“Let’s think collectively how we can stop this scourge, sharps in this community that are not getting retrieved.”
More dialogue will be needed to move forward from the stalemate evident Monday night.
Moreso in light of Southwestern Public Health CEO Cynthia St. John’s feeble attempt to compare the pickup of discarded sharps with the pickup of tossed aside coffee cups.
Surely the difference is evident.


With so many questions raised Monday night concerning sharps disposal and, in particular, a call for a true needle exchange approach, we reached out to Leticia Mizon for an on-the-street perspective.
She is associated with The Nameless, a community-based, peer-led harm- reduction group offering proactive boots on the ground, as noted in an interview with her in July of 2019.
They get no acknowledgement from the city, no doubt due to philosophical differences.
The Nameless imageWe spoke at length with her Wednesday (Feb. 3) and began with how do you properly deal with dispensing and the disposal of sharps. She admitted the idea of a true sharps exchange protocol is a complex matter.
“We can’t just boil it down to we’ll restrict it. If we restrict it, it means it becomes a scarce commodity, people will hoard them (sharps). People will share them and re-use them.
“Not everybody can seek services at the health unit, or with The Nameless or at CCHC (Central Community Health Centre downtown on Talbot Street).
“Not everybody is mobile or able to commit to utilizing needle/syringe programs. We try our best to accommodate and make sure those gaps are filled but, at the end of it, we want to make sure that we don’t have people who are using or accessing needle/syringe programs deal with scarcity moreso than they have to do now with housing, food and financial.”
She continued, “When you create scarcity, things happen that we don’t want to have happen. That’s why the program exists.”
Mizon now took a deep dive into drug use.
“It depends on what you’re using. If you are an IV drug user whose preferred substance is cocaine, you have to use a lot of clean syringes per day. (More) than somebody who is using opioids.

“A really great idea that looks really great on the surface but is really incredibly harmful because that creates the incentive for people to reach into the disposal bins for money.”

“The drug wears off quicker, as far as cocaine is concerned versus opioids. So access to a syringe program that will limit (the number distributed) dictate the chances of that individual sharing or re-using dirty tools.
“Another reason we don’t restrict (distribution) is a lot of folks who are successfully and stably housed host people at their houses because they don’t want people who are not aware of how to support an individual who is using IV drugs, they don’t want that to be a minimum wage worker at McDonald’s.
“They will have them come into their house and they will host them to make sure they have proper education and proper support if they do experience a poisoning and they do have proper ability to dispose of and they do have proper ability to have sterile tools.
She notes the comparison to The Beer Store taking empties always comes up in conversations and so you get new sharps when you return the used ones.
“So why can’t we incentivize a sharps return program? A really great idea that looks really great on the surface but is really incredibly harmful because that creates the incentive for people to reach into the disposal bins for money.
“We know people experiencing financial struggle will go into people’s recycle bins or garbage bins to get empties to take back to make money to survive.”

“It’s a small community and people see other people disposing their sharps, they take pictures of people and put it online and there is no privacy.”

We’ve all seen them on bikes or with their shopping carts rummaging through blue boxes on recycling days in the hopes of cashing in.
“Do we want that to happen with disposal bins of biohazards? No, that’s why we don’t incentivize any type of return program because, in the end, it’s the people who are using those services who are at risk.”
As Mizon notes, exchange programs as suggested by several members of council appear as a solution on the surface, but they are not.
“We know people dispose of properly, but it is the few that are living housing-deprived and are experiencing the world with complex mental health challenges who improperly dispose.
Part of the problem is the limited number of disposal bins, all concentrated in the west end of the downtown core.
“And, there is no privacy to dispose of. At The Nameless, we have people bringing in their used sharps and we are the ones who are able to dispose of in the community to protect people.
“It’s a small community and people see other people disposing their sharps, they take pictures of people and put it online and there is no privacy.”
Ironically, some of the sharps returned to The Nameless likely originated at the health unit.
“That’s true, we are not the only provider of harm-reduction supplies in the city. We even have people from Aylmer coming into the city. We have people from London coming into the city.
“We have people going to London and bringing things in so it’s not just a St. Thomas issue.”
In other words, it’s a systemic problem that one council meeting, no matter the length of time devoted to debate, will not come anywhere close to solving a complex societal problem, much of which is based on mental health issues.
Leticia Mizon is an under-utilized resource that the players currently at the table should perhaps tap into if they are truly seeking answers.

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It may not have been the instant result Jim Copeland was hoping for but the issue of what can and can’t be done on Lake Margaret is going to the city’s parks and recreation department for a comprehensive study to be undertaken with a report back to council.
All of this generated by Copeland’s letter to council endorsing the merits of canoe and kayaking use on the lake, something prohibited at this juncture.
The matter was bandied about for 15 minutes at Monday’s meeting of council with fairly lukewarm support at this time although the staff report may swing the pendulum either way.
Coun. Steve Wookey, a long-time supporter of the activity noted, “To me, Lake Margaret is a recreation facility that could support socially distanced active living. So for me, the intrinsic value of open public spaces has gone up significantly in the last 11 months (as a result of the pandemic).

“You don’t want to do something in the short term that would cause problems in the long term viability of the lake itself.”

Coun. Gary Clarke delved into some of the backstories on the previous council decision to continue limiting activity on the water.
“The previous council has voted on this a couple of times. Part of our rationale was, in a sense, it was a new lake and we had done some water studies and we had done fish studies.
canoe image“We were trying to establish a baseline to find out how healthy that body of water was and what did we need to do to make it more healthy.
One of the things was planting a lot of plants to stop some of the erosion.
“What I would like to see as part of moving forward with discussion,” continued Clarke, “is not just the parks and recreation department receiving the letter, but coming back to us with some new information.
“How much has that lake matured and therefore, would it be healthy for the lake now to allow some canoeing and kayaking? And, could it be done in a restricted area in the sense of a landing area so that you don’t have people trying to enter it all the way around it because you disturb the wildlife and you disturb all the planting we’ve done.
“You don’t want to do something in the short term that would cause problems in the long term viability of the lake itself.”

“I don’t want to have to continue to deal with this issue every time somebody posts a photo of somebody skating on Lake Margaret.”

Coun. Jeff Kohler added, “There’s a reason those restrictions were put on and it goes back further than many of us know.
“These restrictions were put on when there were no houses around the lake at all. The restrictions were for the health and the well-being of the lake.
“It’s important we don’t just jump to conclusions and open it up for everything and then we end up with a stagnant pond in a pretty lovely neighbourhood.”
Coun. Mark Tinlin noted council members have received emails from those opposed to lifting restrictions, citing increased garbage, traffic and parking issues.”
Coun. Jim Herbert painted a much more dire picture of a lake crowded with canoes careening into each other with the risk of drownings.
Not exactly the makings of a Steven King horror flick. Perhaps a hand thrust out of the water a la Carrie.
Not unlike the issue of community grants, Coun. Steve Peters urged council that “I don’t want to have to continue to deal with this issue every time somebody posts a photo of somebody skating on Lake Margaret.
“It gets into a debate on social media. We still have geese to deal with on Lake Margaret.”
Mayor Joe Preston agreed on that latter point.
“It’s a great letter explaining why non-motorized craft are wanted but we need to discuss all things like skating, fishing, trash and we already have a question out about the geese and the oiling of eggs.”
So, Copeland’s letter is paddling further up Consideration Creek.

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Last week’s Lake Margaret item proved passionate in many corners. Norm-Jean Grech-Campbell is not hooked on fishing.

“Fishing is NOT a good idea. Simply because those who fish don’t clean up the broken lines and leave hooks laying about. So if I launch my kayak where there is a rogue hook it could end up in my foot. Kayaks and canoes … yes … they are quiet and leave very little in terms of a footprint.”

Which prompted this counter-point from Sydney Cheverie.

“This isn’t true. Although there are a lot of people that fish, especially around here, who leave their line and garbage all over, I know significantly more who fish that are responsible.
“Most anglers who actually fish are outdoorsmen and are very conscious of not leaving garbage around. Unfortunately, you don’t notice people like myself and actual fellow anglers because it doesn’t leave anything for you to see.
“All you see is what the shitty people leave. Just like there are kayakers and canoers who will bring a lunch and leave their garbage around, in the water or where they dock at.”

Deb Hardy presented a good logistical consideration.

“Maybe if one area was reserved for the fishing or launch point of canoes the fish hook problem could be avoided? But again, people being adults and responsible by cleaning up after themselves would help too.”

Rimas Miknev appreciated Jim Copeland’s letter.

“It’s ludicrous that fishing and paddling on Lake Margaret is prohibited. I’m glad that the issue has been raised again.

Leo Anthony throws in a little Axford’s Pit history.

“Lake Margaret is owned by the city AND its residents, not the neighbours living around it, some of whom apparently feel they are entitled. It should be open for the previously mentioned activities to all who honour and respect the facilities.
“For years, as “Axford’s Pit” these activities occurred, and 50+ years later things seem to have turned out OK.”

Concerning the pair of traffic roundabouts to be incorporated into the reconstruction of Fairview Avenue, Dave McCormick has these suggestions for the centrepieces.

“How about a Scott McKay fabricated baseball at the new roundabouts on Fairview. I believe it would fit in just perfectly with the area. Maybe the second roundabout could have a sculpture of people walking or jogging representing the new walkway trails.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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