Cleaning up drug debris top priority for Lethbridge drug outreach organization

Drug debris is a problem that has escalated in the Lethbridge along with the opioid crisis, according to Stacey Bourque, executive director of Lethbridge's drug outreach program, ARCHES. Now, they're trying to clean it up.

ARCHES has established a number of cleanup initiatives, including their Substance Use Debris Sweep teams

Sgt. Robin Klassen stands near the Stafford Drive bridge where drug debris is a chronic issue. She says this year it appears there's much less drug debris, likely due to the increased presence of yellow sharps containers throughout the downtown. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

 As warm weather melts away snow from Lethbridge streets, litter and garbage — including drug and needle paraphernalia — is being uncovered.

 Drug debris is a problem that has escalated in the city along with the opioid crisis, according to Stacey Bourque, executive director of Lethbridge's drug outreach program, ARCHES.

"We started noticing changes in the behaviours of the people we were serving, we started noticing changes in the number of needles going out the door, the requests that were being made for needles," she said. "And, because we empty the needle boxes in the community, we started noticing there was more debris in those boxes than ever before." 

Collette Ryostock is the manager of the Lethbridge Shelter, which sits directly next to the Stafford Street bridge — a well known problem area for drug debris.

Lethbridge Shelter manager, Collette Ryostock, says the drug debris is an endless issue on the property, which neighbours the popular Stafford Drive bridge. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

"It's just endless, it really is. It's so challenging. We're getting ready for warmer weather and we're already starting to see it out on the property," she said. "We're seeing... needles, uncapped needles, just garbage in general and just a lot of drug paraphernalia."

Bourque said it's a problem the city, frontline workers and drug outreach workers are trying to fix.

In the last few years, she says they've establishes multiple initiatives to combat the problem.

One initiative is the Substance Use Debris Sweep team.

"We have volunteers and staff that get together three or four times a year and go out into different quadrants of the city and do massive sweeps looking for needle debris and cleaning it up," she said.

Sgt. Robin Klassen, of the Lethbridge Police Service's downtown unit often accompanies volunteers on the cleanups and says her unit's main goal is to educate the community, and users, that there is a safe place to go — Lethbridge's newly opened safe consumption site.

"It is better to be there and to be safe and to have some medical supervision and maybe not have that debris left out in the community and have that place to put it," she said. 

Officials said under the Stafford Drive bridge is often littered with needles and other drug debris. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Bourque says they've also created a drug debris hotline and increased the number of boxes in the downtown where sharp objects can be deposited.

"We worked with the city and a number of businesses to establish where those should go," she said. "And, we regulate the boxes, so we check them and make sure they're still in working order. We remove the needles or other debris out of them and then move forward."

Further, Bourque says in the last year a needle debris pick up program was established similar to Vancouver's Spikes on Bikes, which employs individuals with lived drug use experience to clean up the debris throughout the city.

Officials say they hope the newly opened safe consumption site will also help decrease drug debris throughout the city in coming months, as drug users become more familiar with having a safe space to use drugs and dispose of the debris.


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at