Illicit drug use persistent in BC hospital rooms, recent patient says

Mark Budworth said that his hospital roommate introduced himself while in a 'euphoric' and 'confused' state. The roommate would later leave the room and return, telling Budworth that he bought $200 of fentanyl.

Illicit drug use persistent in BC hospital rooms, recent patient says
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A recent patient at a British Columbia hospital was exposed to illicit drug use that he says made him feel unsafe.

Mark Budworth, a Vancouverite in his early 60s, was hospitalized for four days at St. Paul's Hospital in May, where he says drug use took place openly, and was something that staff simply tolerated.

Budworth's account fits into a broader story of rampant drug use seen at hospitals in the city.

Budworth says he was wheeled into a hospital room, where he says he immediately smelled smoke. "It didn't smell like tobacco smoke. It smelled like drugs," he told Breaking The Needle. Budworth says that he had to share his room with someone in their thirties, and while hospital staff acknowledged the smell, nothing was done about it.

Budworth said that his hospital roommate introduced himself while in a "euphoric" and "confused" state. The roommate would later leave the room and return, telling Budworth that he bought $200 of fentanyl.

Budworth recounted that around midnight, he woke up to find his roommate, who appeared very intoxicated, engaging in an "aggressive" conversation with a female visitor, which he described as "a little scary." The smell of illicit drug smoke lingered in the air, prompting him to call the nurses, who then summoned security guards. As the woman was being escorted out, security instructed her to pull her pants up from around her knees, he added.

The incident left Budworth feeling unsafe, fearing possible retaliation from his roommate. Initially, the hospital’s nurses refused to relocate him, but they eventually agreed after he persistently emphasized his safety concerns, he said.

He says he was given a new roommate—this time a homeless man who would smoke cigarettes and marijuana in the room. This man told Budworth that the rooftop courtyard of the hospital is a open drug market where people can smoke fentanyl.

The staff didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. "It was normal,” he said.

Situations like these have prompted Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to announce the Safe Hospitals Act, which he says will "create an aggravating factor for sentencing for anyone who brings an illegal and unauthorized weapon into a hospital."

Poilievre's announcement comes a month after the BC Nurses' Union distributed a memo directing nurses and staff on how to deal with hard drugs in hospital settings.

"It will take away the discretion from the federal health minister under the Controlled Substances Act to decriminalize illicit drugs like fentanyl, meth, crack, and heroin in hospitals," said Poilievre.

Nurses were warned not to measure, weigh, or test substances. They were also told not to monitor substances or quantities for legal purposes, and should avoid touching the substances.

In a statement, the BC Nurses' Union told Global News that health authorities were not doing their job in making employees feel safe.

“Decriminalization doesn’t mean that consumption should take place in a hospital setting. I think that just needs to be considered and needs to be addressed,” Adriane Gear of the BC Nurses’ Union said. “Ultimately, from our perspective for our members, this is becoming a health and safety issue.”

In an email response to Break The Needle on May 30, a media representative from St. Paul’s stated that illicit drug use is prohibited throughout the hospital, except for an outdoor overdose prevention site located in the rooftop courtyard, which she noted had received approximately 600 unique visits in the previous two weeks.

Budworth stated that, while he thinks the provincial government is "pretty good," he would not be voting for the New Democrats in the coming election.

“I was gonna vote NDP. I think the provincial government’s pretty good, but, with this experience, they lost my vote on this one… I don't think that our current government and Victoria is really considering all the stakeholders on this issue,” he said.

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