Sharps disposal pilot program divides students

Photo by Amanda Woodrow.

Despite a recently-announced needle disposal pilot project, Ryerson University has no plans to adopt another harm-reduction strategy — equipping its security officers with Naloxone, an antidote for drug overdoses.

“That’s the position, and to the best of my knowledge that’s still the case — our security staff do not carry Naloxone,” said Ryerson President Mohamed Lachemi. Lachemi says staff are instead trained to call emergency services as soon as they find someone experiencing an overdose.

The pilot project itself has injected controversy on campus, with students heavily polarized over whether or not it’s a good idea.

After a post was made in a Ryerson Facebook group detailing the program, which will see 18 bathrooms across campus outfitted with safety disposal boxes for needles, it received more than 150 replies, with students arguing over whether the program was a good idea.

 “If people are going to use drugs, they’ll use them whether there is a disposal or not. Disposals keep everyone safer, from making sure there aren’t sharps lying around to ensuring that a custodian won’t get poked by one when they’re changing the garbage,” wrote Emily Duffy, a fourth-year social work student.

But other students disagreed and said they felt this program will encourage more people using needles for drug use on campus.

“Are you going to be comfortable going into a bathroom and seeing people shoot up drugs? Are you going to be interested going to a school that says drug use is acceptable on its premises? That is what this program is implying,” wrote Lior Yoffe.

Students we spoke to also said that, though they felt the program was a good idea, without security staff trained to use Naloxone, it could only do so much. “It’s an otherwise empty gesture. I think providing kits and training would really open up the conversation around drug use,” said Duffy.

“Security staff should be trained on how to use Naloxone, and I think they should be implementing education and awareness programs,” said Brianne Mackenzie Hager, a fourth-year child and youth care student.

The pilot program was put in place not just to create safe containers for needle disposal, but to protect community members, either students or staff, from potentially getting pricked by a needle while handling garbage.

It’s unlikely, but still possible, to contract a blood-borne illness, such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C from being poked by a used needle. “Safe disposal guards Ryerson’s staff from accidentally contracting blood borne diseases,” wrote Maklane DeWever.

“Unintended consequence: creating a safe space for drug use invites drug users,” wrote Will Anderson.

The initiative is still in its pilot stages, with the safe disposal sites completed last week.

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