‘Happening daily’: Vancouver Island nurses raise concerns about open drug use in hospitals


B.C. nurses say their health is increasingly at risk because of the fumes being caused by drug users who are openly smoking drugs inside hospitals in the wake of decriminalization.

The concerns were raised after a memo from officials in Northern Health was leaked, causing a major stir in the legislature Thursday.

The memo said decriminalization is linked to rising open drug use inside hospitals, and it instructed nurses to both allow it and not intervene.

The memo read, in part, “patients can use substances while in their rooms,” and that staff should “not call RCMP to go through personal belongings for a patient and do not call security to do the same.”

“Staff do not remove personal items from the patient’s room, even if there is a knife or something considered as a weapon under four inches long…” the memo adds.

On Thursday, B.C. Health Minister Adrain Dix said the memo was worded poorly and that no drug use or weapons are allowed in hospitals.

Vancouver Island nurse’s response

Critics have jumped on the topic, calling it outrageous, while nurses told CHEK News that the issue is happening across the province, including on Vancouver Island.

Nurses say they have to walk through toxic plumes of fentanyl from people smoking drugs, and it got so bad that one Island nurse was told not to breastfeed her child out of fear that the milk may be contaminated from drugs she had been exposed to at work.

A Victoria General nurse and union steward who spoke with CHEK News on Thursday said the issue has gotten progressively worse since decriminalization.

“I can definitely tell you it’s happening daily,” said Laura Martin, Victoria General Hospital nurse.

“I have people in tears on a daily basis talking to me about their exposure incidents and the incidents of violence and the impacts that has had on them, whether today or last week,” she said. “And the fear of reporting, because when they have reported nothing has changed.”

Decriminalization in B.C.

On Thursday, the premier said he was unwilling to concede there was a link between decriminalization and the issues in the hospital system.

“That simply because we understand addiction and want to give these people opportunities does not mean you can use drugs anywhere you want,” said B.C. Premier David Eby.

“That’s why we introduced a new law to restrict drug use around places that everybody would expect, around the doorways of business, around parks, bus stops and certainly the rules apply in hospitals. You can’t smoke in hospitals,” he said.

“There is a serious addiction epidemic in this province, down the West Coast of the United States and growing in other places like Alberta that we are coming to terms with. Decriminalization did not cause the epidemic.”

At the legislature Thursday, politicians heard that a drug particulate sensor was installed in the new baby ward at Victoria General Hospital due to drug use by parents and families, and the need for staff to don respirators and move vulnerable babies.

Island Health says that’s partially true, but the device is a smoke detector and not a drug particulate sensor. It adds that it’s been installed in the Emergency Department, though more have been ordered for the maternity ward.

Rob Shaw

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