The leader the Bear Clan Patrol says more needs to be done to reduce the number of discarded needles left on Winnipeg streets by drug users after he was pricked by one last week.
James Favel drove down a back lane between Austin Street and Main Street on Friday to check on a rooming house where he has been picking up needles for the last five months.
Someone had knocked over garbage bins and rifled through the trash, and hundreds of needles littered the ground, Favel said.
He took a sharps box out of his truck and started picking them up, but there were too many to fit, so he got a two-litre bottle. When that started to fill up, Favel banged the bottle against a fence post to try to get the needles to settle, he said.
He didn't notice that a needle had poked through the bottle, and as he was walking back to pick up more, the needle brushed against his thigh and broke the skin.
Favel immediately got some disinfectant from his truck, squeezed some blood out of the wound and cleaned it.
He then finished picking up the needles before driving himself to the hospital, where he had blood tests and received vaccinations for Hepatitis B and C.
Favel said he expects he will be fine, but he worries about what could have happened if it had been someone else.
"Because I knew what to do, I was able to take care of it. If it was a child that didn't recognize the hazard, then we could be looking at something different," he said.
Growing number of needles
The incident highlights the growing drug problem facing the city, he said.
Favel said his patrol found around 18 needles from June to November 2015. In 2016, that number grew to 300, and this year they've picked up close to 4,000, he said.
That's more significantly more than the number reported by the City of Winnipeg, which said reports of discarded needles quadrupled over the last two years, from 107 in 2015 to 430 so far this year.
Favel wants the city to open a safe injection site.
"I know that safe injection sites won't fix the problems in the community and it won't resolve the needle issue in the community, but it will provide supports for those people that need them," he said.
He also wants the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to come up with a strategy to reduce the number of needles on the ground.
"I'm all for harm reduction, but I want to see harm reduction for everyone in the community, not just the addicts. We need to be protected from the effluent left behind."
No safe injection site planned
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said on Monday that the province has no plans to open a safe injection site.
There is a lack of evidence that it would work here, he said.
"Those communities that have safe injection sites, it doesn't' mean that there aren't needles within the communities, because certainly not everyone uses the safe injection site," he said.
Winnipeg's drug problem isn't as concentrated as in some other communities that have safe injections sites, such as East Hastings in Vancouver, Goertzen said.
"Certainly at this point the evidence doesn't lead us to believe a safe injection site is the best place for resources to go into to try to reduce drug addiction in Manitoba and Winnipeg," he said.
The province has to weigh all options, and is focusing on addressing the need for a long-term treatment centre in Winnipeg, Goertzen said.
Favel said the city needs to care more about the well-being of drug addicts and provide mental health supports.
"I've been cleaning up the needles behind that house for five months and there's no social worker going in and checking on the well-being of these people. As long as they're just sitting there and quietly being addicted and suffering, nobody cares. Nobody comes to check on their well-being, and that needs to change."