Task force to tackle concerns about drugs in B.C. hospitals, health minister says

Click to play video: 'Tackling open drug use, trafficking in hospitals'
Tackling open drug use, trafficking in hospitals
The BC government is addressing growing concerns of illicit substance use and drug dealing in hospitals. Angela Jung reports on what the health minister is now promising to combat the problem – Apr 9, 2024

British Columbia‘s health minister says the province is striking a task force to address concerns about illicit drug use in the province’s hospitals.

The move comes amid concerns about the presence of weapons and drugs raised by the B.C. Nurses’ Union and the circulation of a leaked Northern Health memo directing staff not to measure, weigh or test suspected illicit drugs found in hospital settings.

Speaking to media Monday, Adrian Dix said that the possession of weapons is already banned in hospitals, but that the province would be “making it very clear again, in case there is any ambiguity about that.”

Click to play video: 'Leaked Northern Health memo raises questions about illicit drug use in hospitals'
Leaked Northern Health memo raises questions about illicit drug use in hospitals

Dix said the task force will be responsible for ensuring that policies around drug use in hospitals are consistent province-wide.

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“I expect to see … that there be standardized, that consistent practices are in place in all hospitals that ensures for example that the use of drugs is specific to designates spaces within or around the hospital or under the specific direction of a care team,” Dix said.

“The reality is we have on any given day hundreds of people in our hospitals who face severe addiction issues so as a practical matter we want to ensure that everyone knows where the rules are everywhere.”

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BC Nurses’ Union president Adriane Gear told Global News the task force was a “good first step,” but that any such initiative should include representation from nurses.

She added that nurses are supportive of decriminalization, but that they expect the government to take action on safety and security around reports of drug trafficking taking place at some hospitals.

“Decriminalization of illicit substances makes sense: it is not a criminal matter, it is a health issue,” she said.

“However, trafficking is a criminal matter and those drug dealers are actually preying on this vulnerable, marginalized population. And more needs to be done to protect substance users, but also health care staff and other patients.”

Gear said nurses also want the province to take action to ensure that patients are not consuming illicit drugs in their hospital rooms and that drug use is restricted to designated supervised consumption areas.

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Click to play video: 'Northern Health memo highlights concerns with illicit drugs, weapons inside B.C. hospitals'
Northern Health memo highlights concerns with illicit drugs, weapons inside B.C. hospitals

Those consumption facilities and programs also need to be properly resourced, she said.

“Nurses shouldn’t be the ones that are enforcing the policies, that needs to be somebody else, whether that’s relational security officers or if that’s hospital management, what have you,” she said. “And that there needs to be education, training, support.”

BC United MLA and opposition critic for mental health and addictions Elenore Sturko said the proposed task force will be of little value if it doesn’t come with changes in how policies are implemented.

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Vancouver overdose prevention site moves to new location

“The problem is the enforcement. They are not enforcing the rules that are already in place,” she said.

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“The fact of the matter is that people are continuing to use drugs, illicit drugs, inside the hospital, placing other people at risk. Every person has the right to decide the level of risk they are willing to live with. But they do not have the right to impose that risk on other people.”

Sturko said hospital staff also need to feel empowered to call police if they fear for their safety or witness illegal activity taking place.

Dix said the province has already taken steps to bring on 320 in-house protection service officers.

“The key is to keep people safe, and that’s why we’ve put in place … health authority trained employee security teams,” he said.

“We will be expanding that program,” he added.

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