An Island Health official has raised the spectre of sabotage by harm reduction opponents following statements from Victoria police of an uptick in the number of discarded syringes reported in the city.

In early January, a three-year-old child was pricked by a syringe on Pandora Avenue. Also this month, a woman found two needles; one which police say was deliberately placed in a planter box, needle-end up, and another that pricked her.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, the chief medical health officer for the health authority, said it's possible citizens opposed to the distribution of needles are trying to sabotage harm reduction work by creating fear in the public — at least in the case of the deliberately placed syringe.

"What we are really concerned about is that this isn't some sort of effort to discredit efforts around harm reduction," Stanwick said, noting groups that clean up needles found the situation "very unusual."

When questioned about the basis of his suggestion, Stanwick said there was an extreme amount of stigma toward drug use, especially injection drugs. As well, he said there have been "lots of cases" recorded — in research and in law — in which harm reduction opponents have planted needles.

Stanwick made the remarks after a meeting Wednesday between health officials, police and drug user groups.

He added it's also possible the sharps were left by users, who are either mentally ill or who need better education on how to dispose of them.

Fewer needles found

Stanwick said fewer discarded needles are being found these days by groups that routinely pick them up.

He considers this cluster of incidents a coincidence.

"The events are so basically scattered, it doesn't appear that there is any distinct pattern to them other than they happened over time," he said.

But coincidence or not, Stanwick said ideas are needed to improve public safety regarding discarded needles.

Victoria syringe

Police sent this image of a syringe, circled in red, they believe was deliberately placed in a Johnson Street planter box. The woman who discovered this syringe said she was recently pricked by another syringe in the same area. (VicPD)

On Tuesday, the city said it was looking into whether more sharps boxes are needed for proper syringe disposal.

Also on Tuesday, Jack Phillips, who is director of the peer-to-peer Solid Outreach network for drug users, said if syringes were being placed deliberately, it wasn't being done by drug users.

"Within the street community, most people would be very upset with people for leaving needles behind even just in the street, let alone in a more threatening manner," Phillips said.

One case closed

On Wednesday, Victoria Police announced it had concluded its investigation into the three-year-old who was pricked by the syringe.

In a release, police say the person who used the needle had used it for a "medical purpose" and did not leave it out with ill intent.

"While officers are relieved that this has been determined to not be malicious, it is still troubling when people do not dispose of their needles properly, regardless of their purpose," Victoria Police wrote in a statement.

"This incident should serve as a reminder to dispose of needles in an appropriate receptacle."

Police say the person who used the needle cooperated with the investigation.

With files from Michael Tymchuk