Ryerson’s new policy to put sharps disposal containers in campus washrooms is a positive step, says a student who has experience in harm reduction programs across the country.
But, Annabelle Bernard, a Ryerson business student, says there is no guarantee it will eliminate unsafely discarded sharps. From her experiences with harm reduction practices in Montreal and Vancouver, she is aware of a similar initiative that did not have perfect outcomes.
Sharps disposal containers at Universite du Quebec a Montreal still sometimes resulted in unsafely discarded sharps when only one box was installed near the front sinks, she said.
“No one is going to use drugs, and then bring their used materials up to the front (of the restroom), in front of other people, and then drop it in the box,” said Bernard.
Bernard is a frontline harm reduction worker who works at Sistering. This fall, she started a volunteer needle pickup group at Ryerson.
“I think if they offered how to safely dispose (used needles), that would be a good bridge but I can probably understand why they’re not,” she said.
Ryerson said in September that it would extend the six-month pilot project that installed sharps disposal units in 18 washrooms in 10 buildings across campus. These buildings were identified as having the highest risk for used needles being unsafely discarded. For example, needles were found poking through garbage bags, on washroom floors, and sometimes flushed down drains.
“Based on the outcome of (the pilot), it was actually very successful and we have decided to have it for the whole campus this year,” president Mohamed Lachemi said.
In the coming months, 510 washrooms on campus will be fitted with a sharps disposal unit. The project is a relatively low-cost, with sharps disposal containers costing approximately $6 per unit.
A media release issued by Ryerson after Lachemi’s comment said the pilot successfully reduced the number of sharps found on floors, on the ground outside campus buildings, and flushed down toilets.
Though the release said the boxes were “actively used,” none had been filled enough to require replacement over the six months. The media release also stated that Ryerson had secured more frequent visits to clean up campus from the City of Toronto.
Bernard hopes to encourage students to be part of the solution by getting people together to understand how to use overdose prevention materials and how to recognize overdose.
She says it is great that Ryerson recognizes the need for the units, given its geographic location next to The Works. The Works is a supervised injection site that was created to respond to the community’s needs in the Church-Yonge corridor.
“I think it’s something we should get more climatized to,” Bernard says. “If Vancouver’s shown me anything, you can definitely adjust to (sharps disposal units) and they can just become a normal part of the urban landscape.”