City officials say needle collection strategies are paying off in Lethbridge

City officials say a proactive approach being taken to battle needle debris in Lethbridge is paying off so far.

“The feedback we’re getting from the community… [and because] we’re not hearing as much about finding the needles within the community and in the parks, tells me that some of our strategies are working,” said Martin Thomsen, manager of Community Social Development.

Thomsen spoke to Global News about the issue on Wednesday.

In October, just shy of 13,000 needles were given out to drug users, while almost 25,000 needles were picked up from Lethbridge and surrounding areas.

Thomsen said these numbers have been similar in the past few months and are tracked by a recently implemented collection strategy.

He added that Lethbridge is the first city in Alberta to implement this kind of strategy, which involves 29 collection boxes, a needle pickup hotline and several clean-sweep teams.

“From what I know of, we are the only place in Alberta and maybe even Canada that is taking these measures,” Thomsen said.

“But there’s no silver bullet here. We recognize as long as we have needles being distributed, then there will be needles in the community.

“But our No. 1 goal is to keep the community safe and do whatever we can to collect these needles.”

Thomsen also said current strategies of collecting monthly data for needle debris can be complicated.

“[It’s] sometimes difficult because you have so many different groups and locations where people are bringing in needles from,” he said.

“Some people may stockpile their needles and bring them in all at once, so it’s tough to correlate that into month-to-month figures.”

Thomsen also noted that Lethbridge is seeing smaller numbers in needle distribution than other cities, saying this is a large part of the strategy for keeping more needles off the streets.

“We’re being purposeful to not hand out as many needles, so the amount we hand out in Lethbridge is significantly lower than other communities like Medicine Hat and Red Deer.”

Alongside the current collection strategy, the city is also working on creating an app that will allow the public to take pictures of any debris they may find and forward it on to agencies within the community.

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