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B.C. nurses union says patients and staff at Vancouver Island hospitals exposed to harmful illicit drugs


The BC Nurses' Union says patients and staff at Vancouver Island hospitals are often exposed to harmful illegal drugs being consumed by some patients during their stay.

“I can confirm that nurses within Vancouver Island have certainly been reaching out,” said Adriane Gear, president of the union.

Gear says those front-line workers have reported the incidents to Island Health, but often their concerns have been dismissed.

“Conversations take place like, 'Are you not in support of harm reduction? It sounds like you’re discriminating against people with substance use disorder,'” said Gear.

The union says nurses support harm reduction. Their concerns lie in the potential harms caused by exposure to the illicit drugs, for themselves and other patients.

“Reports of meth being smoked in a unit just hours after the birth of a new born baby,” said Shirley Bond, Opposition health critic, during question period on April 4.

The B.C. government has been facing some tough criticism after a leaked internal memo from Northern Health suggests weapons are being allowed in hospitals and serious drugs could be consumed without any recourse for nurses.

“We want to ensure that everyone knows what the rules are everywhere,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Dix said a task force will be established to create a province-wide standard for the use of illicit drugs in hospitals.

“Now everything has shifted to smoking and it’s just in the air,” said Don McTavish, director of housing and shelters with the Victoria Cool Aid Society.

Last year, the Victoria Cool Aid Society began to receive reports from staff within its housing facilities that they are increasingly being exposed to harmful drugs at work, particularly in its Tally-Ho location.

“We were getting complaints of symptomatic exposures to smoke when they are attending overdoses or going into rooms,” said McTavish.

Air sample testing found concerning levels of harmful drugs circulating in the air.

“We took a number of pretty quick actions,” said McTavish, including administrative controls to strengthen smoking rules within its building, as well as upgrading its HVAC systems for better airflow. S

taff have also been provided respirators with breathing filters when they have to enter a room during an overdose.

It’s an issue very similar to what the BC Nurses' Union is now hearing from its members.

“Part of this issue that we’re dealing with right now is the lack of enforcement,” said Gear.

The union says it wants the province to take action giving clear direction to health authorities when it comes to enforcing drug use within hospitals. The union says it’s also time for the province to look at creating safe-consumption sites on hospital properties.

“So that isn’t putting other patients in harm's way and isn’t putting staff in harm's way,” said Gear. Top Stories

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