Health authorities need to keep nurses safe from illicit drugs and weapons: BCNU

The B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU) says health authorities must do more to keep nurses safe in hospitals.

This comes after BC United got a hold of a memo from Northern Health that was sent in July 2023, instructing nurses to allow patients to possess and use illicit drugs and weapons in hospital settings.

The memo read: “Patients can use substances while in hospital in their rooms, they can either be provided with a Narcan kit or have one available. If a patient has overdosed on substances, we use Narcan and provide teaching.”

The memo also stated that nurses are not allowed to remove personal items from patient’s rooms.

“Even if there is a knife or something considered a weapon,” the memo said.

Adriane Gear, president of the BCNU, says employers must ensure appropriate policies regarding drugs at hospitals because it’s becoming a safety concern.

“Nurses should not be put in a situation to have to search patient belongings,” she said.

“That certainly poses a risk to nurses in the event that there’s a sharp object, but also, that’s not what we do.”

Gear says that nurses are seeing weapons in the workplace more often.

“It’s concerning that the employer in this case, Northern Health would indicate that somehow it’s okay for patients to bring weapons in and keep them,” she said.

Gear tells CityNews that generally weapons or sharp objects are surrendered upon admission and they are placed in safekeeping by the staff. She says they are then returned upon discharge.

“I’m not clear why it would be in anyone’s best interest to have weapons in the workplace,” she said.

“In terms of illicit substance use, I can confirm that within Northern Health but also other health authorities we are seeing an increase of drug consumption within the hospital setting.”

She says nurses are generally concerned but also support harm reduction strategies because addiction is a health matter and not a criminal matter. However, nurses are inadvertently becoming exposed to illicit drugs.

Gear tells CityNews that Northern Health is not alone when it comes to patients being permitted to smoke or use illicit drugs within care settings — nurses in the Vancouver Island Health Authority are also concerned, she says.

“What members have raised, rightly so, is being exposed to substances, you don’t even necessarily know what it is,” she said.

“We have members that have reported walking into the situation being exposed to illicit substance smoke and felt symptoms from it.”

She says it’s scary because it could be any substance, and sometimes patients become aggressive or violent under the influence — this poses a safety issue for nurses, and could have a “criminal element.”

“At the end of the day, we support people with substance use disorder by having safer supervised consumption areas. If that needs to be within a hospital space, that would be a better option versus allowing patients to consume within patient rooms.”

-With files from Rob Snow and Cole Schisler.

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