How improper needle disposal is an issue in Hamilton and for McMaster
CW: drug use, opioids substance abuse, needles
Have you ever traveled across the city of Hamilton, or ran on trails in the areas surrounding McMaster University and come across needles left behind by people using drugs? Have you wondered what you can do about the issue? The problem of needles being left behind in various areas of the Steel City, including hotspots for students at McMaster and youth living in Hamilton, has long been an issue in Hamilton.
Although successful attempts by some groups to mitigate the issue have been made, improper needle disposal continues to be a pervasive problem in the city with the potential to endanger youth and is indicative of the effective epidemic of opioid use in our community.
Despite public health authorities having clear guidelines for the disposal of needles after use, they continue to be found in large quantities across our city. One member of the Hamilton community has made large contributions to mitigate this issue, making significant strides towards reducing levels of needles left across the city.
Nicole Barati is a 24-year-old in Hamilton who is a part of the East End Hamilton Neighbourhood Watch. She has worked with her fiancé to reduce levels of needles across Hamilton simply through picking them up, collecting them and setting up bins across the lower city to encourage safe and clean disposal of needles.
“The problem with needles in Hamilton is extreme. Within the past four months we have scoured areas and collected upwards of 3,000 needles,” explained Barati. “The biggest issue is not so much the amount of needles that are distributed but the amount of needles that are just left out in the open without a care for anyone to fall victim to.”
In collaboration with Shelter Health Network, Barati was able to set up several bins across the city to promote the safe disposal of needles. She will also be holding a meeting open to the public for those interested in how to spot needles and the harm reduction materials distributed in our city that are available for use. Large improvements have been made with regard to the levels of needles found openly in the city.
“Areas that were once littered with dozens of needles, we are finding 2-10 which is a huge change. We’re noticing that our more remote bins that are not out in the open are being used. We empty each bin biweekly and we’ve noticed a steady increase in the use of our bins,” said Barati.
Although improvements have been made, it is important that drug use, including that of opioids and proper disposal of needles, are topics that can be spoken about openly, without the stigma attached to those who use drugs. Awareness and action taken by our local municipal government and authorities regarding this topic, and individual efforts to make a change are the first steps in overcoming this issue.
“If people are not properly educated on harm reduction materials and safe needle disposal our city won’t get any better,” said Barati. “Unfortunately addicts don’t usually realize after their high that they’ve dropped their used needle on the floor.”
Students at McMaster also have a stake in this as there are still students living in Hamilton despite school being online. Participating in the fight against misinformation and stigma is something that involves students. This is a sentiment shared by Shayan Novin, a second-year health science student.
“It is saddening that this is the reality of drug addiction. Society continues to turn a blind eye to addiction and willingly neglects a population that needs our help. It all stems from stigma. We should not be learning about these things through CBC articles, but in the classroom,” said Novin.
While it is true that addressing stigma, misinformation and misconceptions surrounding drug use and those who use drugs is important, the improper disposal of needles is something that endangers McMaster students currently residing in Hamilton.
It is essential this issue is addressed by public health bodies and that students have access to the resources they need to understand this issue.
“Lack of safe disposal options may pose additional barriers to harm reduction,” said Marzan Hamid, a second-year health science student. “As a member of the Hamilton community, I worry for the most vulnerable populations that may need these options the most.”
This is an issue that has long gone undiscussed, despite the many dangers and societal implications associated with it.
“This is an epidemic, we are seeing needles outside our doors, in our alleyways and in our parks,” Barati said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to this matter because it will only get worse.”