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[Photo © Eugene Peretz via Flikr]

The number of discarded needles found in the nation’s capital hit a nine-year high in 2015, according to data from Ottawa Public Health, though the number dropped off in 2016.

The city has identified used needles, as well as all other drug paraphernalia, as “a serious concern.”

We analyzed the number of needles picked up across the city between 2008 and 2016 by both the City of Ottawa staff and participants in the Needle Hunters program.

In 2016, an estimated 12,610 needles were gathered in the city. Although this is not as many as in the previous year, this total is still higher than most other years in the dataset.

While it is difficult to pin point the direct cause of why the City staff and needle hunters collections are lower in 2016, Ottawa Public Health spokesman Daniel Osterer noted that an increased messaging to the public awareness and large needle finds may have an impact on the statistics.

Who are Needle Hunters?

Needle hunters are a group of roughly forty persons contracted through the City of Ottawa to proactively look for drug paraphernalia in city streets or parks. Each day since 1998, needle hunters have walked around priority neighbourhoods, such as the ByWard Market, Lowertown, Centretown, Vanier and Carlington in search of these items.

“In 2015, Needle Hunters collected 17,169 improperly disgarded needles and 1,531 crack pipes in Ottawa.”

— Ottawa Public Health

How many needles are found in your neighbourhood?

The three wards with the highest number of needles retrieved are in the downtown core: River; Somerset; and Rideau-Vanier in both 2015 and 2016. However, the number of needles retrieved in the River Ward almost doubled in 2016, making its rates second highest in the city.

The Rideau-Vanier ward has 92 per cent of all retrieved needles from City staff and needle hunters in Ottawa in 2016.

Councillor Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier) said that it’s expected for his ward to have the most, as they are similarly highest for noise and graffiti complaints.

He noted that the needle drop box programs has significantly helped reduce the number of discarded needles in the community.

“Certainly the needle program has been doing a good job, where we used to find needles in parks and so on, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. So for me, that’s reassuring,” Fleury said.

“On the other front, we recognize that we do have a lot more injection drug users than we had years ago.”

It’s illegal to dispose of needles in garbage cans or recycling bins as it is considered a biohazard. Here are needle drop box locations throughout the city, according to the City of Ottawa open data in 2013.


[Google Maps © Petronella Duda; Data sourced from Open Data Ottawa]

The highest concentration of drop boxes back are situated in the Rideau-Vanier ward.

“Ottawa Public Health introduced 12 new drop boxes in 2016, and continues to fine tune the locations of where existing boxes are located to best serve the public,” said Osterer. 

“Approximately 876,765 needles were retrieved from Ottawa drop boxes in 2015. “

— Ottawa Public Health

[Infographic © Petronella Duda]
Data sourced from : Ottawa Public Health

Fleury’s ward may be the first in Ottawa to receive an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to implement a safe injection site in Ottawa. The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre hopes that their site will open ahead of summer 2017 if approvals are made in the near future.

Read more: Ottawa health centre wants green light for supervised injection site

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