Opposition MLAs allege rampant open drug use, dealing at Vancouver hospital | CBC News

The opposition B.C. United party says staff and patients at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital are being exposed to illicit drug use and trafficking with alarming regularity, in a claim that has received pushback from hospital staff.

The party’s mental health and addictions critic, Elenore Sturko, spoke in Monday’s question period at the Legislature about what she said were reports from nurses at St. Paul’s.

“A concerned nurse says, ‘We know they are drug dealers, and yet they come and go,'” Sturko said. “It’s truly mind-boggling.”

Sturko linked the reports to the ruling B.C. NDP’s decriminalization of the possession of certain amounts of illicit drugs under a three-year pilot project last year.

A woman with straight bright blonde hair in a bob, looks off to the left of the frame. She's wearing a black shirt and a blue blazer.
B.C. United MLA Elenore Sturko, the party’s critic for mental health and addictions, said nurses’ reports of drug use and dealing at St. Paul’s is detrimental to patients and staff well-being. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Sturko’s colleague, health critic Shirley Bond, said nurses are describing “needles and broken crack pipes all over the floor” as an everyday situation at St. Paul’s.

Health Minister Adrian Dix stated several times in response that drug use and dealing is illegal in hospitals, although it is inevitable that some people will break rules and some patients are coming to acute care with severe addiction issues.

“As we face challenging issues in the community, we face challenging issues in hospital, which in many ways are reflections of the community,” Dix said.

A white man wearing a black tie with blue speckles on it speaks.
Minister of Health Adrian Dix says substance use is already banned in hospitals and the province is working with health authorities to unify policies across B.C. (Ethan Cairns/CBC)

Dr. Seonaid Nolan, an addiction medicine physician at St. Paul’s, says there’s nothing new about substance use at that hospital or any other. 

While St. Paul’s is home to a unique peer-run overdose prevention site focused on injection drug use, drug inhalation can be tougher to manage. She said patients are sometimes directed to a fourth-floor garden to inhale drugs.

She insists St. Paul’s prioritizes staff safety and is disappointed by what she called “rhetoric and false narratives” about the hospital and patients who seek care there.

A paramedic rushes a gurney into a hospital.
A B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedic is pictured outside of St. Paul’s Hospital in June 2021. A physician at the hospital has pushed back against B.C. United’s claims. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“I can tell you, I have never walked through a cloud of fentanyl,” she said. 

“It’s stories like this that do a complete disservice to our patients and the healthcare providers that are elbows deep in this work and have been for almost a decade now.”

Dix points to extra security

Dix said after question period Monday that the province is putting together a task force to standardize policies banning illicit drug use at hospitals across all health authorities. 

He also said 320 relational security officers have been hired across B.C. to help keep health-care workers safe.

However, Sturko said those measures aren’t enough.

“Putting a task force in place to reinforce rules that they’re not enforcing will do nothing,” she told reporters in the legislature. “The fact of the matter is people are continuing to use illicit drugs inside the hospital, placing other people at risk.”

Sturko’s party has vowed multiple times to end the decriminalization program in B.C. if elected.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Adriane Gear says her union supports the task force idea, but frontline nurses need to be on it.

“We believe in harm reduction, but harm reduction should not come at the cost of harming a nurse or any other healthcare workers,” Gear said.

“It’s an opportunity for us to look at the situation critically, it’s an opportunity for the Ministry of Health to be very clear on what the directive is.”

St. Paul’s isn’t the first acute care facility where concerns over drug use and dealing have been raised.

Last week, B.C. United highlighted a July memo to staff at the G.R. Baker Hospital in Quesnel asking workers not to search and confiscate illicit drugs from patients’ personal belongings, not to restrict visitors if they suspect they are dropping off illicit substances and not to confiscate weapons if they are found.

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