Drug problems persist, particularly in some areas of the city
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2013 6:34PM EDT
A map detailing where thousands of discarded needles are found each year in London, obtained by CTV News, shows there were more than 15,700 such needles in 2011.
The map uses data collected from the London Cares project to address homelessness.
It includes red dots to show where more than 100 needles were picked up.
The problem persists in Old East Village, west along Dundas Street, and into the downtown core as well as in Soho.
One of the most effective tools for dealing with the problem is drop boxes.
At one box on Bathurst Street, more than 1,200 needles were found in its first two weeks.
“The efforts on the part of the outreach team is to really be able to identify those hot spots, both ones that continue to persist, but also new ones that crop up,” says Grant Martin of London Cares.
The city's 13 needle drop boxes have kept more than half-a-million needles off the streets since the start of 2011.
In that same year, 127,000 needles went into drop boxes and there were 186,000 last year.
In the first half of this year, 144,000 have been collected.
While it says a lot about the scope of the city’s drug problems, it also shows the effectiveness of London’s harm reduction strategies.
“The collection of drug-using equipment is really one small part of a much deeper and complex system we are working on,” says the city’s Jan Richardson.
But for those who live or work near a needle hot spot, their attention is on needles that fall through the cracks.
“You can catch some sort of disease, get stuck by one (by) accident or fall and put your hand on one,” says Tara Nurse, who works downtown.
While the five-year London Cares project wraps up in December, the city intends to keep drop boxes as a permanent fixture in affected areas.
Another way to counter needles, is a safe injection site. At such a location, addicts can use heroin, cocaine and methadone in a safe environment.
It is a controversial proposal and it’s meeting some resistance. But in some places, it’s also being celebrated.
In an area of Dundas Street, it’s being called the answer to the needle debris and drug-related crime. People who work with addicts also believe it will work.
There are others, however, who say such a site would put an end to Old East Village.
Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser says a safe injection site would kill any chance for an Old East Village renewal.
“Stopping the spread of disease is a very important thing, but I also believe you don't want to destroy a five-block area.”
He says in B.C., its injection site in Vancouver - Canada’s only such site - is surrounded by poverty and crime.
Statistics show in the 10 years it’s been operating, there hasn't been a dramatic increase or decrease in crime or drug use, but there has been a 35 per cent decrease in fatal overdoses.
“Reducing overdose rates, HIV infection, helping people to inject safely…are the hopes for London," says Brian Lester, the executive director of the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.
RHAC runs a successful needle exchange program. In the first six months of this year, they gave out more than a million needles and the return rate was 68 per cent.
Lester says a safe injection site could be part of a bigger, multi-faceted solution.
“Safe injection sites are already evidenced based, proven practices. We know they work.”
The Middlesex-London Health Unit doesn't have an official position, but is supportive.
“A safe injection is a harm reduction strategy and public health is about harm reduction,” says the unit’s Dr. Bryna Warshawsky.
Neither the federal or provincial governments have plans to open more sites.
Next week council votes on the creation of a task force for the Old East Village area and Orser hopes they'll consider video surveillance, extra lighting and a heavier police presence to combat the problems.