Opinion: The missing exchange

The provision of clean needles must come with an equal commitment from health agencies to retrieve the dirty ones.

Needle exchanges have long been a tenet of a modern harm reduction strategy. The argument is that intravenous drug users will be less likely to share dirty needles if they have access to new ones.

By limiting their exposure to dirty needles, the chance of them contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C is also reduced.

As a result, not only are IV drug users spared fatal or debilitating diseases, society is spared the considerable cost of caring for them in their illness.

But while many may agree on the efficacy of this practice, the parent who finds a discarded needle in his or her child’s playground is less likely to be sympathetic.

Discarded needles are not a new phenomenon. But just as opiate use has exploded in recent years, so too has the proliferation of used needles.

And coupled with the growing presence of people camping out in local parks and open spaces, the problem has become acute.

Indeed, city staff estimate they collect hundreds of used needles from Chilliwack parks every morning.

School staff, too, spend their mornings sweeping school grounds for needles discarded overnight.

This week parents at Chilliwack middle school took to social media to demand their children’s school yard be kept free of discarded drug paraphernalia.

Their lament is not lost on city and school officials.

But those officials rightly point out that they are not the only ones who should face the parents’ wrath.

What seems to be missing from the needle exchange program is the “exchange” part.

If agencies are going to provide clean needles, they must have an effective strategy to retrieve the dirty ones.

We’ve developed incentives to keep recyclables out of landfills.

Surely we can find creative and effective ways that keep dirty needles out of our children’s playgrounds.