B.C. not directing hospitals to designate drug-use areas, province says

B.C. Premier David Eby says the government won’t be making hospitals provide drug-use spaces. Kier Junos reports.

The B.C. government is making it clear that it is not directing hospitals across the province to set aside space for drug use.

Premier David Eby says allowing the consumption of illicit substances in hospital facilities is not the policy of the provincial government.

“You’re not allowed to smoke tobacco in hospitals and you’re sure not allowed to smoke crystal meth or fentanyl or other hard drugs,” he said Tuesday.

“There will be no province-wide mandate that every single hospital has to have an OPS or a consumption area, because every single hospital doesn’t have this issue.”

The clarification comes after Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters last week that the province is reviewing policies to address drug use and weapons in B.C.’s hospitals.

He said on April 8 the goal of a new taskforce was to streamline policies so all health authorities have the same rules with regard to drug use in hospitals.

“What we see is that every health authority has policies in this respect. Some of them are pretty straight forward and clear across the board on issues such as the use of or the carrying of any kind of weapon in a hospital. Essentially, it’s just prohibited, period. And we’re going to be making it very clear, again, in case there’s any ambiguity about that,” he told reporters during a scrum in the halls of the legislature.

“There are some differences between the policies in different health authorities, and that’s why I put in place a taskforce to ensure that we have one policy across B.C. with respect to issues of people using illicit drugs in hospitals and on all of these questions … so there will be one policy.”

However, he too clarified the government’s stance in a statement Tuesday.

“I want to be very clear, smoking and drug use is not allowed in hospitals,” Dix said via email on April 16.

“We are not designating hospitals for overdose prevention sites in Richmond or anywhere else. I directed the Ministry of Health to establish a Task Group to review the rules currently in place and ensure people are protected. Its purpose is to look at all aspects of the issue; specifically focusing on keeping people safe while gathering ideas to better support people addicted to drugs while they’re in the hospital.”

He notes “all hospitals have staff to enforce these rules,” and that protection-services personnel are trained in workplace violence prevention, mental health, and de-escalation.

“Most importantly, people in the hospital need to know they will be kept safe from second hand effects of drug use. That means our efforts through the Task Group will focus on keeping other patients, their visitors, and all of our staff safe during their visits and work in the health care system,” Dix continued, adding the task force met for the first time on Thursday.

“The Task Group will bring forward recommendations to improve on the rules already in place, and we will continue to report out on this progress in the future.”

Dix has said he expects policies to be standardized and that “consistent practices are in place” across all of B.C.’s hospitals.

The conversation around drugs in hospitals has been raised a number of times in recent months, after a 2023 memo from Northern Health was obtained and shared by the opposition.

The memo instructed nurses to allow patients to possess and use illicit drugs and weapons in hospital settings, and also stated that nurses are not allowed to remove personal items from patients’ rooms, “even if there is a knife or something considered a weapon.”

The BC Nurses Union did not respond to requests for interviews, but a statement from Hospital Employees Union spokesperson Lynn Bueckert says in part: “…The government’s new task force to create province-wide standards will go some of the way to addressing the issue that health authorities have identified … The way forward requires empathy…”

The HEU adds that none of its over 60,000 members have reported exposure to illicit substances. 

Premier says B.C.’s response to toxic drug crisis to ‘evolve’

In North Vancouver Tuesday morning – the premier took numerous questions on the toxic drug crisis in BC – which is killing around seven British Columbians a day – including if the province’s response has been working. 

“I think all of us recognize that the program needs to respond and evolve to the concerns of British Columbians and what we’re seeing in community. That’s why we brought in a set of rules around public drug use, to say there are unacceptable places for public drug use,” Eby said.

“We are in the unfortunate position of being constrained in being able apply that law by a decision out of the B.C. Supreme Court, that says we can’t regulate hard drugs the same way we do alcohol or tobacco, which is an unusual decision to be frank, and a troubling one for us.”

Meanwhile, Brittany Graham with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, says she hopes the new task force looks at solutions to make hospitals better for everyone – instead of focusing on what she calls ‘punitive solutions.’ 

 “It would make sense that they then use their powers to create health services for people who use drugs in existing health services. It’s a shame that that seems not to be happening,” Graham said.

“But I’m hoping this is an example of, moving forward, the provincial government, who is in charge of health, continues to create health services for people who use drugs – like overdose prevention services, that we do not have enough of – and people are dying every day.”  

-With files from Charlie Carey

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