The town of Torbay is attempting to lock illicit drug use out of its community one area at a time.
As a result of discarded needles being found in the watershed area at North Pond, the town has erected a sign informing the public that in a few weeks the area will be gated and secured.
Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant says he’s not gullible enough to believe it doesn’t happen in Torbay, but until it was brought to council’s attention in May he wasn’t aware needles were being disposed of in public areas.
“It has certainly become a safety issue and I’m very concerned. I didn’t realize — of course you always hear of kids having bonfires and leaving broken beer bottles, but in the report there were actually needles found up there. Until that meeting I didn’t realize it. So that kind of raises the bar for concern,” he told The Telegram Friday.
Torbay Coun. Carol Ann Smith brought it to council’s attention during a May 13 meeting. At that time she said the director of public works and technical services reconfirmed for her that the watershed area was being used for illicit activity and drug paraphernalia was being left around.
“It’s a health-and-safety issue for staff and for residents being close to our only water supply,” she said a the time.
During that meeting Smith, who couldn’t be reached for this story because she’s on vacation, was told by the director there were plans to limit access to the watershed.
Councils from St. John’s and Paradise have already been contending with areas in their communities being littered with drug-use equipment including used needles.
In March, St. John’s had to deal with the issue head on after a man was beaten in a house on Tessier Place and residents complained they were sick of their concerns about drugs and crime being ignored. They said the area had become drug infested, residents reported finding needles and they were feeling unsafe and vulnerable in their own neighbourhood.
The victim, Joey Whalen, 47, died as a result of his injuries and Ken Edward Green, 34, of Mount Pearl was charged with second-degree murder.
Evidence of intravenous drug use in Paradise came shortly after when a resident reported finding needles on a quiet cul-de-sac in April.
Gerard Yetman, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador AIDS Committee, said councils need to seriously think about installing collection bins in their neighbourhoods.
“They have a responsibility and a role to play in keeping the community safe, because there is always going to be drug users. We’re trying to assist councils,” he said Friday.
“We’re working towards a collection plan, when looking at IDU (intravenous drug use) we’re looking at serious risk because of HIV and Hepatitis C even more so because Hepatitis C can live for a long time up to eight days, two weeks, whereas HIV dies on contact with air, but it is a serious problem,” said Yetman.
He said collection bins are a solution based on research that has worked in pilot projects in Ontario, and B.C, and have made a vast improvement on a clean community.
St. John’s city Coun. Sheilah O’Leary says that is all anybody wants — a clean, safe place to live.
“We’re not a social agency at the city, but we still have a responsibility to public safety,” she said Friday.
“I’m a very strong advocate that we do have a role to play. We can’t just say, ‘Oh that’s the business of so and so.’ We have a role to play in neighbourhood safety and if the city can it should facilitate and speak to safe neighbourhood issues,” she said.
Yetman said his organization is working with St. John’s by offering a harm reduction education program to teach employees how to discard needles properly.
But he said if it was up to him users would have strategically placed bins.
“That’s why working with councils, we need to work together to get these bins out there and that way at least our young children are not at risk,” he said.
Yetman said given the organization’s collection rate of 78 per cent of the 80 per cent distributed — the other 20 per cent of needles go out to the rest of the province — more people are using, then the ones who show up at the office in St. John’s.
“What that is telling us with the amount of needles showing up in these areas is that not everybody doing drugs is getting their needles from us. We don’t get a lot of people from Paradise, Torbay, Conception Bay who use this site for distribution,” he said.
For now, Paradise has stepped up its enforcement to try to keep an eye on illicit activities in its town.
Rod Cumby, the town’s chief administrative officer, said council just wants to keep its citizens safe.
“We’re trying to engage the RNC all over the town. Identify the problem areas and to get extra patrols there and we’ve stepped up our own enforcement, too,” he said.
Gallant said Torbay is also depending on the RNC for help and before the needles were discovered the town had tried to be proactive by inviting officers in to talk to students, parents and councillors about drug use and crime.
“We also have plans to look at security to patrol some of the usual suspect hangouts and work with the RNC to try to curb some of the activity to have a safe community for everybody,” he said.
RNC Const. Talia Murphy said the RNC does respond to a number of complaints involving discarded needles and there has been more education about intravenous drug use circulated during the last few years in relation to safe disposable of needles.
“If the discarded needles have possible ties to illegal drug use the matter will be further investigated. Needles should be handled in an appropriate manner to ensure personal and public safety,” she wrote in an emailed statement.