A new early warning system for people who overdose in washrooms is being expanded on Vancouver Island and will help save lives as it’s rolled out, Island Health says.
Health officials say the new motion-detection system, demonstrated at the Comox Valley Nursing Centre in Courtenay Wednesday, can prevent overdoses by monitoring for stillness and prolonged inactivity in health facility washrooms.
Island Health has been testing out the system at two facilities in Courtenay since October and say at least one life has been saved so far. Since then the system has been added at four other sites in Campbell River and Nanaimo and Island Health has 12 more on order.
The radar system, designed by Brave Co-op in Vancouver, is so sensitive it can detect a heartbeat and breathing. Once it notices a lack of motion for a set period of time, it will send a stillness alert to a designated phone urging staff to do a check.
“We have a protocol and then we can enter and provide support if somebody is in medical distress,” said Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer for the North Island.
“We know of multiple overdoses that have been detected that very likely would not have been detected if it wasn’t for the sensors, [it’s] an unbelievable win,” said Brave Co-op CEO and Founder Gordon Casey.
This technology is the first of its kind on the Island and is only being used sparingly elsewhere in the province, mostly on the Lower Mainland. Casey says there are 79 systems in operation and 110 more on order.
One Island Health spokesperson said Vancouver Island is set to become the largest user of this system.
Those who work on the frontlines of the toxic drug crisis says it’s a step in the right direction. Our Place Society’s Director of Services Jordan Cooper says staff currently do frequent rounds of facility washrooms to ensure nobody is in medical distress but says the new technology would be welcome.
“If this program reverses one overdose and keeps somebody from dying then it’s worth it,” said Cooper.
Enns says it’s not meant to be the only solution.
“This is another movement towards, you know, moving the dial that substance us by individuals is a health issue. We don’t want people to use alone, we don’t want people to be at risk of dying from toxic, poisoned drug supply,” she added.
“It would be really nice if people didn’t have to go to a bathroom to use their substance so where I’d actually like to see this going is we have more observed opportunities for people to go to be safe.”
According to the University of Victoria’s “Safer Bathroom Toolkit” approximately 50 or more overdoses occur in bathrooms across B.C. each month.
This is in part due to the semi-privacy washrooms can offer, as well as running water and somewhat clean space.
“The sensor system gives that level of dignity that we want to provide to everyone who uses our services,” says Lesley Howie, director of Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use program for the North Island.
“It’s a very visible and concrete action that we as a service can provide. And it reassures staff that there’s a system in place. I am hopeful that this is a forerunner for something that will be much bigger.”
This comes just a week after one doctor at the hospital spoke out about an “epidemic of overdoses” and Island Health issued an overdose advisory in February.
In January, 39 people on the Island died from toxic drug use.
READ MORE: ‘Epidemic’ of overdose-related deaths at Nanaimo General Hospital, says doctor