Debate ongoing over drug-use spaces in B.C. hospitals

Vancouver Coastal Health says it has no information on a proposed policy from B.C.’s health minister requiring drug use spaces in the province's hospitals, which he said Friday was "not the decision."

Vancouver Coastal Health tells CityNews it has no information on a proposed policy from B.C.’s health minister requiring drug-use spaces in all hospitals — something that other cities have pushed back against.

This comes after Minister Adrian Dix told the Globe and Mail last Thursday that hospitals would have to provide those spaces for people with substance-use disorders, only to tell reporters Friday that it wouldn’t be happening.

“No.That’s not the decision. What we’re doing is looking at issues like that. Of course, they have to be reviewed … in fact some hospitals do have such facilities,” he said.

“People can be interested in the politics of it … but what we’re interested in here is about the health care of it. And that means every patient that goes to hospital has their interests protected, and every staff person who works in a hospital has their interests protected. So we haven’t made that decision, and I don’t think it’s likely we would.”

Nurses at B.C. hospitals have recently spoken out about the challenges of working around open drug use, while a report last month from the auditor general found the government hasn’t done enough to implement overdose prevention sites.

Brittany Graham, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, says having drug-use spaces at hospitals is a good step, but it can’t be the only step.

“The one thing I would be concerned about is that this would be the one step moving forward, [while] we need overdose prevention services in many different places,” she said.

“And if in a town where they have no overdose prevention services currently, and the hospital would be the only place where they can access that service, that’s putting unnecessary burdens on the medical facilities that already exist in that town.”

On Sunday, B.C. marked eight years since it declared a public health emergency due to toxic drugs killing people. Since then, over 14,000 people have died from toxic drugs in the province.

In response to the crisis, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in the country to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs including cocaine, heroin, meth, and ecstasy. This was part of a pilot project to reduce barriers that keep people from accessing life-saving services, including safer supply programs.

CityNews has reached out to the Ministry of Health on Monday for further clarification of its stance on requiring drug-use spaces in B.C. hospitals.

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