Amid unconfirmed reports of a child stepping on a needle at Skaha Lake Park, Penticton city council is meeting today with Interior Health to discuss the issue.
In a press release Wednesday, Mayor John Vassilaki said the issue at hand isn’t “unique to Penticton.”
“I am looking forward to speaking with Interior Health … and having an open and frank discussion concerning the challenges Penticton is experiencing when sharps are improperly discarded in parks, along trails or near waterways,” he said.
A video posted on social media earlier this week depicts three children showing a woman where they apparently found a needle near the trunk of a pine tree in Skaha Lake Park.
When one of the children is asked if she stepped on the needle, the girl says, “no,” and then “yes.”
The woman who posted the video did not respond to a request for comment from The Herald.
Dr. Silvina Mema, a medical health officer for Interior Health, said in a telephone interview Wednesday she was unable to verify if there had been any reports of a child stepping on a needle, but said the story’s not impossible to believe.
However, the chance of contracting disease from a dirty needle, said Mema, is almost nil.
“It’s been laying out in the sun, and if there’s any blood on it, it dries out,” she said. “There’s never been a case of HIV from an improperly discarded needle.”
But with that being said, added Mema, Interior Health does not “put the interest of people who use substances above the general community.”
“If it happened, it’s very unfortunate,” she said. “I am a mother, and I know how much anxiety this can cause for a family.
“I do want to acknowledge that this isn’t an outcome that we’re happy with.”
Meema said the IH program that distributes needles for free to injection drug users is provincially run, and IH has no plans to end it or switch to needles with retractable tips.
“People who use substances don’t want the vanishing point needles,” she said. “People who use substances will sometimes keep some of the substance in the needle to reuse, and the size of the needle doesn’t come in the preferred size the users would like to use.”
Mema further explained that if IH begins giving out needles users don’t like, they may stop using the program and instead turn to reusing dirty needles, increasing their chances of contracting diseases like HIV. It also helps IH connect with substance users and get them into addictions treatment.
“We don’t see many of those diseases anymore, in big part thanks to this program – so we will not stop it.”
Penticton bylaw services supervisor Tina Siebert was also unable Wednesday to verify whether or not a child had actually been poked by a needle, but said “obviously we acknowledge it’s a very unfortunate incident.”
Most of the needles bylaw officers come across are “in hidden locations” and “not quite as obvious as in the middle of grassy areas,” Siebert added.
“This is a little bit unique,” she said. “But if this is a new normal, it’s important that it’s dealt with.”
Siebert reminded the community there are sharps disposal containers located throughout the city, including at Gyro Park, Okanagan Lake Park, Rotary Park and the Public Library.