A Niagara resident is calling for more to be done to deal with discarded drug paraphernalia being found across Niagara Falls.
Paul Tarsitano said he and his wife were walking in a tourist area of the city on Family Day when they found more than a half dozen used syringes with the sharps exposed. He said the items were found near a sidewalk between two buildings at the corner of Ferry Street and Clark/Ellen Avenue.
In late December, Tarsitano and Niagara Falls regional Coun. Bob Gale found similar drug paraphernalia along a section of the Millennium Recreational Trail, which prompted Gale to address city council during a meeting in January.
“We need more programs to deal with this ongoing problem and a hazard for all,” said Tarsitano. “It seems to be getting worse and right in the heart of a tourist area.”
Tarsitano said he’s “hyper-sensitive” to potential hazards when he’s walking, which he attributes to his time as a paramedic.
Tarsitano said when he saw the syringes in the Ferry Street area, he called Niagara Regional Police’s non-emergency line because he and his wife were not prepared to clean up the site.
“This time was pretty scary because it was really three feet from the main walking (area),” he said. “They had the needles actually attached to the syringes, so this is concerning, obviously for the addicts themselves, but also … there are tons of kids that are walking … with their families.”
Tarsitano said while it may not be a “popular” idea with some, a safe injection site in Niagara Falls could help deal with the problem.
“I know that people may think, ‘Oh, it shows that they have a problem.’ Yes, there is a problem now, there is a big problem in Niagara that’s hidden, but now it’s not being hidden too much. It seems to be coming out more in the open with these syringes on the ground.”
Talia Storm, director of StreetWorks services, a regional program that provides safer injection and inhalation supplies to individuals, said the harm-reduction group encourages people who find used drug paraphernalia in public to call the city “because the city has municipal works who are working closely on this alongside us.”
“Since the Millennium Trail situation a few months back, we have had a few meetings with the City of Niagara Falls, so we’re looking at how we can continue to work together and collaborate in the most efficient and effective way possible,” she said.
StreetWorks is a program offered by Positive Living Niagara, an agency that seeks to support people living with, or affected by, HIV, through education and prevention programs.
Storm said StreetWorks has cleanup groups that go out regularly in Niagara to check on areas where there are reports of syringes being found. An outreach team was in Niagara Falls, Friday.
“When we do get this information, it’s incredibly helpful because then we can check in on certain areas and try and connect with folks who might be leaving those messes, with the hopes of building capacity, providing bio bins, that type of thing, and providing that support, which in turn helps our community as a whole.”
StreetWorks operates a supervised drug consumption and treatment site in St. Catharines. Storm said since it opened three years ago, more than 700 overdoses have been reversed.
“There is a provincial cap on the number of sites that are allowed (across Ontario), and that cap is 21, so that cap needs to be lifted in order for a site to exist in Niagara Falls,” she said.
“We are hopeful and optimistic about that happening eventually. Niagara Falls is definitely on our radar to have one, but, of course, like so many other services, we are at the mercy of government decisions.”
Storm said at the St. Catharines site, people come in with their pre-obtained substances, which they can use under the supervision of harm-reduction workers and paramedics.
“At the site, we’re also really fortunate to have community partners, in addition to the paramedics,” she said. “Community Addiction Services of Niagara is on site, Niagara Health is on site, Quest Community Health Centre comes down, public-health nurses. So, trying to make it a one-stop shop to access all types of services, so that we can really support people with other aspects of their life as well.”
Ray Spiteri is a St. Catharines-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. Reach him via email: email@example.com