Discarded Needles in Our Communities

New - To report on drug paraphernalia items that you have cleaned up around the city use the Drug Paraphernalia Reporting Webform.

Keeping Ottawa neighbourhoods safe is our collective responsibility. In an effort to promote community safety, Ottawa Public Health (OPH), along with numerous City and community partners, has implemented a variety of measures to provide safe options for disposing of drug paraphernalia and addressing items that have been improperly discarded.

Safe handling and disposal of needles
What to do if you find used needles, glass stems or other drug paraphernalia

If you find a discarded needle or other drug paraphernalia, you have two options to safely dispose of the item.

  1. Call 3-1-1 to dispatch City staff to retrieve the item(s). 
    or
  2. Dispose of the item(s) yourself in a needle drop box.
Safe handling and disposal of needles
Review the safe handling and disposal guidelines and training module for detailed instructions on how to dispose of needles and drug paraphernalia - Printable instructions (pdf - 218 KB). This document is currently not in an accessible format. An accessible version will be available shortly.

Materials required:

  • Gloves (i.e. latex, rubber or leather gardening gloves). Gloves are meant to protect against fluid contamination, take precautions as no gloves are puncture proof.
  • Tongs, pliers, or tweezers. Be sure to clean and disinfect the instrument afterwards.
  • Sharps container or hard plastic bottle (i.e., pop bottle). 

Instructions:

  1. Prepare yourself with gloves, tongs, and a hard plastic container. Do not make direct contact with the needle when disposing of it.
  2. Using tongs, pliers, or tweezers, pick up the item so that the sharp end is pointing away from you.
  3. Place the hard plastic container on a stable surface. Put the needle point down into the container and secure the container shut. Do not hold the container in your hand while placing the needle inside.
  4. Dispose of the container at a needle drop box. Do not flush needles down the toilet, and do not put them in the garbage or recycling bin.
  5. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
  6. Report what you disposed of to Ottawa Public Health through the Public Reporting Webform.

Children should never touch needles or other drug paraphernalia. If a child finds a needle, teach them to report it to a trusted adult who can arrange for the item to be dealt with safely.

Training module
What to do in the case of a needle stick injury

The following instructions also apply to injuries occurring from other potentially contaminated objects in the community - printable instructions (pdf - 118 KB). This document is currently not in an accessible format. An accessible version will be available shortly.

  1. Allow the wound to bleed freely. Do not squeeze the wound. This may damage the tissues and increase the risk of infection.
  2. Wash the wound with soap and water. Do not apply bleach or alcohol to the wound.
  3. Go to your local emergency department immediately for follow-up care.
    • An assessment will be done to determine the need for post-exposure prophylaxis (e.g., medications and/or vaccinations to further reduce the risk of transmission). The effectiveness of these medications decreases with time since the injury occurred, making it important to seek assessment as soon as possible.
    • Baseline blood tests for hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will be done at this visit, with follow-up blood tests to be done over the next three months to make sure none of these viruses have been transmitted. Provide your healthcare provider with a link to OPH’s information for healthcare professionals webpage during your visit.
    • Your healthcare provider may also recommend tetanus vaccination.

What are the risks associated with needle stick injuries that have occurred from community exposure?

When a needlestick injury occurs, concerns arise about exposure to blood-borne viruses, particularly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). The risk of getting these viruses via a community needle stick injury is extremely low and can be further reduced with prompt medical attention. If previously vaccinated for hepatitis B, the risk of HBV transmission is virtually zero, and individuals are encouraged to ensure they are up to date on this and other vaccines

The risk of transmission of HIV, HBV and HCV via a needle stick injury acquired in a community setting is far less than in a healthcare setting because:

  • The injury does not occur immediately after needle use.
  • The needle rarely contains fresh blood.
  • Any virus present has been exposed to drying and environmental temperatures.
  • Injuries are usually superficial.

 

Disposing of sharps in a Needle Drop Box

It is against the law to dispose of needles, glass stems, or other sharps in the garbage or recycling (By-law 2012-370 Schedule G - Prohibited Material).

The Needle Drop Box Program provides Ottawa residents with secure and tamper-proof drop boxes located at approximately 80 locations across the city to allow for the safe and convenient disposal of sharps. See the Needle Drop Box Locations map below to find the needle drop box nearest you.

Needle Drop Box Locations
Collecting and returning medical sharp containers to pharmacies

Used needles, syringes and glass stems are prohibited in regular garbage bins. Sharp containers for safely disposing of these items can be collected and returned to pharmacies participating in the Health Products Stewardship Association's free take-back program. Visit the HPSA website to find the nearest participating pharmacy.

Integrated strategies to collect discarded needles in our communities

Ottawa Public Health works with City of Ottawa departments to provide proactive retrieval services for needles and other drug paraphernalia that are discarded in public spaces and supports several safe disposal options.

  1. The Needle Hunters – Daily crews patrol the communities of Lowertown, Centertown, Somerset W, Hintonburg, Carlington and Vanier to retrieve needles that have been discarded in public spaces.
  2. City of Ottawa staff – With the coordinated support of several City departments, City staff respond to requests for needle retrieval anywhere in the city in a 1-hour response time. Residents can request this service by calling 3-1-1.
  3. Needle drop boxes With over 80 24/7 publicly accessible locations across the city, needle drop boxes make disposing of needles easy and safe.
  4. Harm reduction services and partner agencies – Dedicated to people who use drugs, approximately 30 agencies across the city are available to collect needles and other drug paraphernalia.
  5. Household Hazardous Waste Depots – Hosting multiple events throughout the year, Household Hazardous Waste Depots collect all kinds of waste that cannot be collected in the regular waste stream, including medical sharps, and drug paraphernalia.
Responsibility for needles found on private property

Property owners are responsible for removing discarded needles / paraphernalia from their property.

  • Non-publicly accessible areas: Property owners are responsible for having the item(s) removed. If they are not comfortable removing the item(s), they should call a private waste removal company to have the hazardous material removed.
  • Publicly accessible areas: By-law and Regulatory Services may attend if the item is publicly accessible and poses a risk to the public.
Monitoring community needs and program effectiveness

Ottawa Public Health consults with a variety of community partners including residents, people with lived experience, harm reduction partners and City departments to discuss local needs, community concerns, and retrieval sources/data to ensure the program’s effectiveness. 

General considerations

Ottawa Public Health retrieves needles and other drug paraphernalia through multiple collection streams. Various streams use different mechanisms for recording the number of needles collected including by count, weight, and visual estimate. The data represents an estimate of the number of needles collected.

The following table represents the estimated total number of needles retrieved by each collection stream per year. 

Estimated Number of Needles Retrieved
Needle retrieval stream 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

City staff and residents

2,000

3,000

3,000

4,000 8,700

Needle Hunters

20,000

18,000

27,000

32,000 33,000

Household Hazardous Waste*

133,000

158,000

197,000

150,000   206,000

Harm Reduction Program and partner agencies

630,000

693,000

774,000

 737,000 1,128,500

Needle Drop Boxes*

955,000

1,162,000

1,460,000

1,101,000  1,070,000

*The number of needles collected by Needle Drop Boxes and Household Hazardous Waste Depots are estimates based on weight and are impacted by factors such as refuse being collected alongside the sharps materials.

Working with individuals who use needles

Ottawa Public Health operates the Harm Reduction Program that provides sterile injection and inhalation devices to promote safer drug use practices. The main goal of this program is to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, primarily HIV and Hepatitis C, and minimize the risks associated with substance use in the greater community. Our Public Health professionals also educate intravenous drug users on how to safely dispose of needles, sharps containers and other biohazards; as well as provide general health information and connect people to community supports.

For more information please visit the Harm Reduction Program webpage.

 

News and trainings 

 

a honeycomb bulletOur online Overdose Prevention and Response Training is now available! 
Learn about types of drugsdrug intoxication and overdose prevention, naloxone, the 5 steps to respond to an opioid overdose, and available supportsTake it at your own pace. 

a honeycomb bulletOur online Party Safer training is now available! 
Learn about how and where to access Naloxone, reduce health risks using party safer tips, how to identify and respond to an overdose and find information on local supports. Take it at your own pace and get a certificate of completion.

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH), Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Paramedic Service and the Overdose Prevention and Response Taskforce are issuing an alert to warn residents about the risk of overdose related to the toxicity of the unregulated drug supply.

 

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