RESIDENTS campaigning for a safe way to dispose of needles made an impassioned plea to town councillors this week, asking them to accept and address drug problems in Lyme Regis.
A petition for sharps bins to be installed in public toilets in Lyme Regis was launched last month after three-year-old Morgan Goldsmith found a used needle on a public pathway and put it in his mouth.
The toddler has since undergone several blood tests and is being treated as if he has been exposed to hepatitis B. He will have to have more tests in the coming weeks, with the final results not expected until Christmas – a process his family has described as “hell”.
The petition was launched by Morgan’s mother Jayne Mace and has been signed by more than 400 people.
Ms Mace intended to ask town councillors to support her campaign at this week’s meeting, but found the matter too emotional and her statement was instead read out by supporter Cheryl Reynolds.
It read: “After what happened to Morgan I was angry and scared and I wanted to do something to try and stop another family having to go through what we are.
“I started an online and paper petition for sharps bins to be installed in public toilets. To date it has 419 signatures. I am asking tonight that something is done to show myself and these people of Lyme that their opinion matters.
“Lyme, like every other city and town, is not immune to drug problems; people are injecting and hiding the fact, and they are being careless with their needles.
“Morgan didn’t find the first needle in Lyme Regis, our local PCSO has found them and so have our council’s outside maintenance workers and gardeners, but they don’t have to report their findings to the authorities, so this does not give us a true representation of the problem.
“I am asking you to please consider sharps bins in the public toilets and to also do some sort of school and media promotion to explain to children and adults what to do if a needle is found and where it can be taken to dispose of safely.
“I need to know that I have done everything to keep my children safe and to prevent another family having to go through what we are, and I’m asking you to help me.”
Needle exchange programme
While the initial petition was for sharps bins to be installed in public toilets around the town, Ms Mace has welcomed other ideas for the safe disposal of needles.
Former town and district councillor Mrs Reynolds has been working with trained paramedic Mark Ellis – who runs local business Rapid Emergency Medical Services – on ideas on how to address drug issues in the town.
Mrs Reynolds commented: “I think the problem with getting things like this accepted in Lyme Regis, is that many refuse to believe that we have a problem. Unfortunately, the drug problem is universal and Lyme Regis does not escape this.”
Referring to the teen shelter that was removed from the Anning Road playing field after complaints about drug use, which she campaigned against at the time, Mrs Reynolds continued: “When we have had a problem in the past, we have tried to remove the problem by moving people on and removing areas where people with problems congregate.
“This only moves the problem to another area; it has not been successful and you, as a council, need to look at this kind of knee-jerk reaction much more carefully and decide to deal with it with a far more wider-reaching programme.
“For drug problems to be dealt with, what we need is a needle exchange programme or what is now called an NSP – a needle and syringe programme. This a community-based clinic or office where people can bring needles for safe disposal and be provided with clean needles for their own use; where safer injecting practices can be encouraged by providing sterile water, alcohol wipes, condoms, and health-related information.
“Needle exchange programmes are not designed to treat addiction, HIV, hepatitis C or other medical conditions; they’re designed to reduce harm by preventing the transmission of deadly diseases.
“Sharps boxes alone will end up with them being broken into and needles on the floor in toilets. If we, or you, are to be successful in dealing with this problem, which so many refuse to believe we have, we should do more than just sharps boxes in our toilets.
“We should deal with this problem head-on and set up facilities that result in a cleaner and safer Lyme Regis for everyone.”
Sharps boxes not the only answer
Mr Ellis said that, while he was not against the sharps boxes being installed in toilets, he did not think this was the only answer and also backed the proposal for a needle and syringe programme.
He commented: “If a drug user cannot source a new needle, they will do so from the sharps boxes, which will create an issue of used needles being scattered inside buildings which children use. It could also result in a spread of HIV or other diseases.
“This programme would provide the drug user with clean needles, syringes and a personal sharps box, but more importantly it will offer drug counselling and the opportunity to refer to rehabilitation. As each user would be provided with their own sharps box for the safe disposal of needles, would it be necessary to install sharps boxes in public toilets?
“This programme is not just for drug users. It will benefit people like yourself and me, who have children who walk these streets and play in the parks, who may find needles that can cause them harm or maybe worse, or it may be one of us that treads on them. We could also run courses for anyone interested, not just for drug users but maybe for their friends and family.”
Mr Ellis said he was currently holding discussions with Dorset Public Health on the necessary requirements for such a programme, including staffing and the best location.
He said it could be set up on a trial basis, either run as company with the council as main investor, or as charity with sponsorship from council. Councillors did not give any response to their comments at the meeting.
However, the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, who was absent from the meeting, has previously said that all members of the public raising issues at council meetings will receive a response within 10 days.
Following the meeting Dorset Council issued a statement saying it was already addressing drug issues in Lyme Regis.
Commenting on the incident involving Morgan, Councillor Graham Carr-Jones, Dorset Council community safety and housing portfolio holder, said: “I am very sorry to hear about this incident and my sincerest sympathies go out to the family.
“Council officers have met the family and discussed installing boxes for needles in public toilets. However, there have been no incidents of them being found in the town’s public toilets this year.
“Records also suggest that less than 10 people in Lyme might need to use this service and needle exchange services already exist in the town to meet their needs.
“This was a terrible incident, but it also appears to be an isolated one. After considering it carefully we do not believe that having boxes for needles in public toilets would have prevented it, although it would give local people and visitors the impression that the town has a widespread drug problem, which it does not.
“After discussing these issues with the family, they asked us to instead repeat advice about what to do if you find a needle.”
Dorset Council advises that when needles are found in public they should not be touched unless they pose an immediate danger. They should be reported immediately so a clean-up can be arranged as soon as possible, by contacting Dorset Waste Partnership on 01305 221040.