This Hamilton couple finds dozens of used needles around the city every day
Hamilton Public Health says there's 'never enough being done' about the city's needle problem
When Nicole Barati and Tyler Kipling go for a walk together in Hamilton, they bring gloves and a pair of tongs — to pick up all the needles left behind by people using drugs.
They spend afternoons together up to their ankles in garbage, sifting through messes left along rail trails, parks and even near schools. They often find drug paraphernalia including empty packets, bits of metal, rubber bands and syringes.
While Barati and Kipling are usually looking for syringes, they say they don't have to look very far anymore and often stumble upon them.
Growing up near Tim Hortons Field in the Stipley neighbourhood, Barati said she saw firsthand the severity of Hamilton's drug problem.
Now, as a 24-year-old living with her fiancé in the east end, she is trying to help fix it — or at least make it less pervasive.
The couple has listed 11 hot spots in Hamilton and they expect to find more. At each spot, they leave a safe disposal bin to encourage drug users to put used needles away and avoid making a mess.
"People don't know you can get bins ... maybe they just need that extra push. We do come across a lot of places that use bottles," Barati said.
When CBC News joined them on a walk near a rail trail, Barati and Kipling found dozens of needles in minutes. Normally, they would search an area for hours. Their bin was also half full.
"I think maybe there's a little bit more that needs to be done," she said.
Public health doesn't disagree with that assertion.
The number of people who have told public health they used naloxone kits to revive users who overdose has skyrocketed from 568 in 2018 to 2,214 in 2019 — that's a 290 per cent jump. And public health has given out 11,293 more naloxone kits in 2019.
The increase is due to a few factors:
- The city is doing a better job of getting kits out to people.
- More kits are being used.
- Some drugs, like a new pink fentanyl, require multiple naloxone doses.
'There's never enough being done'
Dr. Kerry Beal, lead physician of the Shelter Health Network, said the disposal of needles is a "huge problem."
"You need secure boxes that can't be broken into, because people will break into them and re-use the needle."
"Handing out boxes is wonderful if they can do it, but should they be buying boxes themselves? They should be talking to public health and the Van (needle syringe program) and getting boxes from them to hand them out."
Beal has since helped Barati and Kipling get boxes without paying for them.
Michelle Baird, director of epidemiology, wellness and communicable disease control with Hamilton Public Health, said there are eight safe disposal bins around the city.
The project has been successful and now the city is adding five more bins. When and where those bins end up hasn't been decided yet.
Baird says "there's never enough being done" in the fight against the city's addiction issues.
"Everyone is trying to do their part and we certainly appreciate the community coming together like this and help deal with a community problem. Could we do more? That's why we're getting more bins. We're looking at expanding our needle exchange program, trying to figure out if there are ways to add hours to the Van," she said.
People who want to dispose of needles and aren't near bins can also use the Van Needle Syringe Program by calling or texting 905-317-9966. Daytime hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Evening hours are Monday to Sunday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
How to safely dispose of a used needle
Anyone who finds needles and wants to safely dispose of them can follow these steps:
- Use tongs and/or wear gloves and bring a puncture-proof, sealable container to the area the needle was found.
- Pick up the needle by the middle of the plastic tube with the sharp end facing down.
- Place the needle in the container sharp end first and close the container tightly.
- Remove gloves and wash your hands and equipment with soap and water.
- Bring the container to a Needle Syringe Program Site or Hamilton Community Recycling Centre.