After noticing dozens of used needles throughout town and hearing several stories of people accidentally being pricked — their lives potentially changed forever — Lyle O’Sullivan, 58, decided it was time to take action.
Now 12 years sober, he is a former intravenous drug user. He also has a son and daughter-in-law using on the streets of Vernon so he understands the struggle of addiction better than most. After learning of a successful initiative in Kamloops, O’Sullivan decided to launch his own needle buy-back project in Vernon.
Starting with a mere $122 he earned by returning bottles and cans last weekend, he devised his plan.
Determined to start immediately, he printed informative signs and began posting them throughout the community. Running the initiative out of the back of his red Pontiac Montana minivan and offering five cents per needle, he coined the project The Needle Incentive Program.
“A lot of people and the local government are still trying to figure out what to do and the pharmacies here in town will take the used needles and dispose of them properly but as you can see, users aren’t doing that,” he said. “They just can’t be bothered and that’s probably a mix of being looked down on from people and because it’s easier.”
He officially launched the project Wednesday, vowing to come out every week to collect used needles — “as long it’s needed”.
When he was an intravenous drug user, he lived in Vancouver where there was a free needle exchange. Here, in order to receive a clean needle, you had to return a used one — this, he said, is a solution he thinks would work best here. But, until a permanent solution is set into motion, he will be on the 2800 block of 34th Street Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“While five cents isn’t a whole lot but it’s something. It’s incentive.”
By the end of his first day, he collected 829 needles. Capping the maximum amount of needles per person, per drop at 250, he said he’s sure it’s only the beginning; that he’s only scraped the surface.
“It was really successful for the first time and it was probably a slow day because people received their welfare checks Wednesday so we’ll see how well it goes today,” O’Sullivan said. “But, at the end of the day, if I can help by getting one needle off the street then I’d consider that a good day.”
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