Needle Debris

Even a small percentage of improperly disposed needles represent a significant health and safety issue for all citizens. There are many agencies and citizens in Red Deer who work to support clean-up efforts daily, but despite these efforts; Red Deer continues to face challenges with the number of improperly disposed needles downtown and across our community.

Over the past three years, The City focused heavily on needle clean-up through three departments and a contract with the Downtown Business Association (DBA). It is estimated that needle pickup by the city alone exceeds $85,000, which directly affects property taxpayers.

The numbers:

  • Turning Point* distributed 548,909 syringes throughout their Central Alberta boundaries during their April 2017-2018 fiscal year. While a large portion of these needles are returned, the amount of used needles returned to Turning Point is not a metric that is tracked. For example, returned sharps containers are sealed, and not re-opened for safety reasons.
  • 840 needles required disposal at rough sleeper camps cleaned up between January and June 2018.
  • There are 10, 24-hour needle drop box locations in Red Deer.
  • The DBA estimates approximately 1,500 needles were picked up by their clean team between January and September 2018.
  • City crews cleaned up more than 4,000 needles in public spaces around The City between January and September 2018.
  • Numerous other avenues of disposal exist across the community, including pharmacies, individual sharps containers and individual’s own homes.

Current Actions:

  • The City has a 24-hour call line for reporting improperly disposed needles. Alberta 211 is also available for those who need to report in a language other than English.
  • City crews regularly clean up needles to keep public places safe.
  • With funding from The City of Red Deer, The Downtown Business Association (DBA) Clean Team conducts a downtown sweep to clean-up needles on a daily basis from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • A needle reporting process is in place to help members of the public understand what to do if they find a needle or other drug paraphernalia.
  • A Needle Disposal Guide is distributed by local social agencies and partners in an effort to raise awareness about needle safety, reduce the number of discarded needles, and tell how and where they can safely dispose of needles.
  • An Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) opened on October 1, 2018.
  • In September 2017, City Council called for Alberta Health to assume responsibility for the impact of the needle distribution in the community and fund The City’s cost for needles pickup; and that Alberta Health initiate a needle exchange program or similar initiative. The Province denied this request.
  • During a meeting with the Associate Minister of Health in July 2018, Safe Consumption Services, needle debris and treatment were highlighted as priorities for our city. The Province refrained from any commitments related to these priorities.
  • With the opening of an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) site in Red Deer, The City will receive $80,000 from the Province to put towards strategies to mitigate substance debris. The funding will be used to expand the services of the existing clean team; this will include expanding the area and the hours for drug debris clean-up.

Ongoing Strategies:

  • The City and its partners are engaged in regular conversations with businesses, social agencies and residents about the safe disposal of needle debris.
  • The City shares information with citizens to support them in their efforts to lobby the provincial government to respond to social and community safety needs in our city.

The City is currently funding an extensive needle pickup initiative, which includes the distribution of a needle disposal guide to the community. City Council has, for the last two years, called on Alberta Health to assume responsibility for this community impact with the provincial government providing minimal funding.

*Turning Point is a local harm reduction agency focused on preventing HIV/STI/Hep C in central Alberta.

Related Links

Community Safety