Skip to content

B.C. United says health authority actively supporting hospital drug use

Island Health says document coming under fire supports and promotes both patient and staff safety
Island Health, the health authority covering Vancouver Island, says a document said to be “actively” directing drug use in hospitals according to B.C. United is a “resource document” to support and promote both patient and staff safety. (CHRIS BUSH/ Black Press Media)

B.C. United is renewing its calls to end decriminalization after the release of what it calls an Island Health memo “actively” directing drug use in hospitals.

Dated March 12, the document says it is “intended for acute care staff to help guide interactions with people who use substances” while admitted to health care facilities.

The release comes after the release of a July 2023 document from Northern Health providing guidance staff following what it calls an “increase in admissions of patients with possession of substances and using substances while in hospital.”

B.C. United’s Renee Merrifeld, MLA for Kelowna-Mission, said this second document is as “shocking as the first” in noting that it directs “acute care staff to not only accommodate but actively support drug use in health facilities.”

‘“Instead of requiring patients to stop using substances when they access care, staff must work collaboratively with patients,’” Merrifeld said, quoting parts of the memo.

Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, said the document is even worse than the Northern Health document.

‘“If a patient has an IV or catheter, provide education on injecting into lines,’” she said, quoting a line from the document.

Health Minister Adrian Dix responded that staff has engage with patients, and with the health issues they face.

“Staff will continue to do that, to provide the utmost possible care to everyone in our hospital,” he said.

He added everyone admitted to an acute care hospital deserves the best possible care.

“Everyone needs to have their interests protected,” he said. “Many people, of course, the vast majority, enter with no substance abuse issues but serious health issues. Their interests need to be protected. If someone has a car accident and ends up in hospital, their interest (has to) be protected. Everyone’s interests needs to be protected.”

RELATED: Substance exposure put 36 health workers on WorkSafeBC compensation in 2023

RELATED: Health minister announces task force to deal with drug use in B.C. hospitals

RELATED: B.C.’s nurses support harm reduction, but call for additional safety measures

RELATED: Leaked memo sparks heated debate about drug use in northern B.C. hospitals

Looming behind this exchange are the related questions of work safety for nurses and decriminalization.

Dix recently formed a task force to help create province-wide standards in response to reports of illicit substances being used in hospitals and nurses being exposed to drugs. Dix told reporters Tuesday the task force will soon report out, while confirming reports of the weekend that hospitals won’t have designated spaces for illicit drug use.

He also said during Question Period Tuesday B.C. will take all steps necessary to protect patients, pointing to the recent addition of 320 relational security staff to support health care workers.

The B.C. Nurses Union said in a statement to Black Press Media that it supports harm reduction measures supporting individuals experience substance use disorders.

“Exposure to illicit drugs while being consumed in hospital settings is a concern for many of our members,” it reads.”Ultimately, it is the responsibility of health employers to support harm reduction strategies and ensure the occupational health and safety of nurses, health care staff and other patients.”

Island Health said in a statement that the document is neither a “memo” nor “policy” but rather a “resource document to support and promote both patient and staff safety” while providing care to patients using substances, “including care management and harm reduction strategies.”

It adds substance use disorder is a medical condition and “proactive conversations with patients about their substance use is a critical part” of health and safety planning.

The statement also addresses comments around injecting into IV lines.

“Staff will not physically administer any medication or substance to a patient that is not prescribed and the resource document does not direct them to do so,” it said.

“Through experience and learning, we understand that patients will sometimes inject unregulated substances into their IVs, if they have them,” it reads, adding that this practice carries many significant risks.

“That is why it is important to educate patients on safety, if the provider’s assessment indicates that there is a risk that the patient may inject through an existing IV line,” it reads. “We know through learned experience that not providing education is not a patient-centred approach.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more