A local mother and health care worker is appalled at the uncapped needles and other drug paraphernalia she found at a downtown elementary school on the eve of the new school year.
Danielle Rose was taking her older child to Grade 8 Day at Maple Ridge secondary for orientation in late August, when she noticed a small homeless camp under the bleachers at the school track. That got her thinking about what the city’s street population might have left at her daughter’s new downtown school, Eric Langton.
She knew it could be bad. Back in June, her son was cutting through a vacant lot at Dewdney Trunk Road and 228th Street, and saw discarded needles scattered everywhere. Concerned, he told his mom about it. She went and cleaned up more than 50 used needles. At least seven still contained what looked like blood and drugs, she said.
So on Sept. 3, at about 9:30 a.m., she and a friend, Matt Bosco, went to Eric Langton to pick up what they could, armed with garbage grabbers and sharps containers.
And it was bad.
“We stopped counting drug baggies when we hit 30. We stopped counting heroin foils when there were more then 15,” she said.
Her seven-year-old daughter saw drug packets with a design on them and said, “’Look, someone left a bunch of stickers.’”
That was a teachable moment for Rose.
There were blood-soaked alcohol wipes, condoms and both capped and uncapped needles. They were all found on both playgrounds at the school, and on a walk around the building’s perimeter. She didn’t check the school field area.
They were within easy reach of kids, right where they are playing.
“In a hospital environment, you don’t handle those things without gloves,” said Rose.
“It was overwhelming. Our reaction was shock and disbelief. It’s really disheartening.”
She posted her experience and photos of the drug paraphernalia on the Facebook page Maple Ridge Taxpayers Against Tent City, and got a strong reaction.
The school district was aware of the situation, having seen the online posts, and district staff assured the public that it is also concerned about drug paraphernalia at schools.
“Ensuring our school grounds are clean and safe for students and staff is a top priority for us. At all schools in our school district, school administrators do an inspection of school grounds as a part of their routine when schools are in session. Schools in areas where the required cleanup effort is more significant, including Eric Langton, receive additional support from school district grounds crews, who do a thorough sweep of these grounds on a regular basis,” said spokesperson Irena Pochop.
She added that last week’s storm cleanup had crews busier than usual.
Their regular cleanup resumed this past week.
She added that the homeless camp at MRSS was just one person, and he had moved on.
Pochop also said the problem is not unique to Eric Langton.
“We have a few schools where the clean up effort tends to be more significant, and these schools get additional support from the schools district grounds grew,” she said.
The district office parking lot, at 22225 Brown Avenue, is one of the buildings where there staff are “constantly” finding discarded needles, used condoms and other drug paraphernalia, she said.
The city has recognized the problem, and the city website has an Inappropriate Discards of Sharps Map.
It shows 18 reported locations in 2015, most in the downtown core, with numbers ranging between one and 39 needles.
When Fraser Health or other agencies offer free clean needles to drug addicts as a harm reduction measure, they have an obligation to consider what happens to those needles after they are used, asserts Rose.
“What about the other end?”
There is not even information provided to the public as to where they can dispose of the discarded needles.
“It would be easier to swallow if we had education, and clear lines of communication.”
After speaking to the police and bylaws about her so called “bucket of filth,” she was advised to drop it off at a pharmacy for safe disposal.
At the very least, she says volunteers should be trained to safely clean up what drug users leave behind.
Erin Gibson, the regional harm reduction coordinator with Fraser Health, said harm reduction is a provincial program headed by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and there are three local providers of sterile needles – Alouette Addictions Services, the local Public Health Unit and the Purpose Society. The latter is mobile, and does pick up needles when they are spotted.
She said the majority of people who use the needles actually do dispose of them safely.
“Most people do the right thing.”
What’s more, she said drug users will do sweeps in their communities to pick up needles discarded by other addicts on a regular basis. They are trained in safe handling.
She would be receptive to training Maple Ridge volunteers who want to get involved in safely disposing of needles, or “any option that increases the capacity of the community to deal with the problem.”
She said drug addicts are among the most vulnerable people in the community, and the stigma attached to drug use sometimes stops them from seeking out needed health care. If they recover from addiction, they are often left with permanent health problems.
“Harm reduction sends a really clear message that people’s lives matter,” she said.