What is being done about discarded needles in our communities?

Keeping Ottawa neighbourhoods safe is our collective responsibility. Improperly discarded needles, crack pipes, and other drug paraphernalia found in our communities have been identified as a serious concern. 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 address this issue.

Needle Drop Box Program

It is against the law to dispose of your needles, crack pipes (glass stems), or other sharps in the garbage or recycling (By-law 2009-396 Schedule J). As a result of this by-law, Ottawa Public Health created and administers the Needle Drop Box Program. This program provides Ottawa residents with secure and tamper-proof drop boxes located at 64 locations across the City to allow for the safe and convenient disposal of sharps. In 2013, approximately 824,110 needles were retrieved from the Needle Drop Boxes. For information on the safe handling and disposal of needles, please visit What to do with use needles and crack pipes or if you would like to inquire about obtaining a Needle Drop Box for your business or community, please call the Ottawa Public Health Information Line (OPHIL): 613-580-6744.
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Needle Hunters Program

The Needle Hunters Program is a major component of the City of Ottawa’s corporate response to discarded needles, crack pipes, and other drug paraphernalia found in our communities. The Needle Hunters are a group of people who proactively search for and dispose of these items in priority neighbourhoods across the City. Their clean up routes are constantly monitored and adjusted in order to target areas of particular need.

In place since 1998, the Needle Hunters operate year-round, and work seven days a week. A Needle Hunters winter route was initiated in during the 2012-2013 winter season in many of the ByWard Market area parking garages and covered/accessible areas. Currently, they monitor/patrol the communities of:

  • ByWard Market/Lowertown
  • Centretown
  • Hintonburg
  • Vanier
  • Carlington

In 2013, the Needle Hunters recovered 7,645 needles and 1,421 crack pipes.

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Working with City services to quickly respond to discarded needles

Ottawa Public Health works with other City departments through the City Contact Centre 3-1-1 to respond to requests for the pick-up of improperly discarded used needles. The City makes an effort to respond to all needle retrieval requests within one hour. In 2013, 751 needles and 41 crack pipes were retrieved via collaborative action among City staff.

IMPORTANT: If you have picked up used needles or other drug paraphernalia in your neighbourhood, please report these finds to Ottawa Public Health at needlereporting@ottawa.ca and indicate the following information: 

  • Your name and contact information
  • What was found
  • How many
  • The exact or closest address to the pickup location
  • The date of the pickup

Providing needle pickup and disposal training

Ottawa Public Health provides information and training to service providers and community groups on the safe handling and disposal of needles. For more information on the safe handling and disposal of needles, please see What to do with use needles and crack pipes or call the Ottawa Public Health Information line 613-580-6744 to arrange for a training session.

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Working with individuals who use needles

Ottawa Public Health operates the Site Clean Needle Syringe Program. This program operates on the harm reduction principle of providing clients with an adequate amount of sterile needles to meet their requirements for safe injecting. 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 dispose of needles safely and the risks of failing to do so. We provide them with sharps containers and information on various disposal locations. In 2013, the Site Clean Needle Syringe Program, including all of their partner agencies, retrieved approximately 428,538 discarded needles. For more information please visit the Site Needle & Syringe Program webpage.

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Monitoring community needs and program effectiveness

Ottawa Public Health consults with a broad segment of the community on local needs and concerns, and carries out a number of initiatives to ensure the program’s effectiveness including:

  • tracking the number of discarded needles and drug paraphernalia found in the City and directing our programs and resources to areas in need
  • tracking and analyzing local injury and disease rates
  • ongoing research including program evaluation and implementation of best practices
  • advocating for increased resources for needle clean-up and recovery programs.
     

Estimated number of needles retrieved

Needles retrieved

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Needle Drop Boxes

229,400

235,783

258, 654

245,923

*923,870

824,110

Household Hazardous Waste Depots

55,667

80,000

93,333

148,233

99,500

96,334

Needles retrieved by City staff

1,527

3,816

985

    1,978

1,195

751

Needles picked up by Needle Hunters

3,350

4,094

3, 944

6,349

8,325

7,645

Site Program & partner agencies

273,415

432,784

389, 848

435,448

404,128

428,538

Total

563,359

756,477

746,764

 837,931

1,437,018

1,357,379

* In 2012, in response to concerns that needle drop box figures underestimated the total number of needles retrieved out of the drop boxes, OPH implemented a more accurate method for calculating the contents of needle drop boxes, based on sharps weight from each box.

Please note that the collection from the Needle Drop Boxes and the Household Hazardous Waste Depots is an estimate and may include other sharps and/or drug paraphernalia, much of which is used for medicinal purposes.
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Estimated number of crack pipes retrieved

Crack pipes retrieved

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Crack pipes picked up by City staff

545

2

44

96

34

41

Crack pipes picked up by Needle Hunters

278

1,203

1, 064

1,271

1,558

1,421

Total

823

1,205

1, 108

1,367

1,592

1,462

Please note that as of July 31, 2007, Ottawa Public Health no longer distributes sterile crack pipes or safer inhalation equipment.

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Improperly discarded needles retrieved by ward by City staff and Needle Hunters

Ward

Needles Found

Percentage

UnUnknown

26

0.31%

1

4

0.05%

2

46

0.55%

3

 0

0.00%

4

2

0.02%

5

 0

0.00%

6

 0

0.00%

7

5

0.06%

8

2

0.02%

9

 0

0.00%

10

1

0.01%

11

6

0.07%

12

6695

79.74%

13

30

0.36%

14

838

9.98%

15

44

0.52%

16

316

3.76%

17

14

0.17%

18

251

2.99%

19

112

1.33%

20

 0

0.00%

21

 0

0.00%

22

1

0.01%

23

3

0.04%

Total

8396

100.00%

 

Needles picked up
by Needle Hunters:
91%

Needles picked up by City Staff:
9%

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