The provincial health authority on Vancouver Island is testing new technology inside washrooms to help save the lives of people using illicit drugs.
Island Health has installed motion-detecting sensors that track how long a person has occupied the bathroom and whether they are moving at six locations which have been identified as high-risk spaces for drug poisoning.
“We are just being naïve if we think (drug use) is not happening (in washrooms),” Island Health board chair Leah Hollins said.
“We know that there are far more events happening behind doors in bathrooms in public, and in other spaces. Why not make it more safer for people?
If a washroom occupant hasn’t moved for a minute or has been in the washroom for 10 minutes, the system will send a text message to designated responders such as clinicians, site supervisors or administrative staff who can then follow up.
According to Island Health the sensors may have saved a life already, after a staff member was alerted and attended to an unresponsive person at one of the sites.
“We know that the shame and stigma of addictions have driven people to use alone, but given the increasingly toxic drug supply, using alone can be fatal,” B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said.
“These trials by Island Health are another action to save lives and better support staff.”
The project is the first initiative to be launched under the authority’s innovation program.
“The value of this trial is that we’re turning a restroom into a life-saving service,” Hollins said.
“Island Health’s innovation program explores new ideas and approaches to improve (how) health care is delivered.”
A community wellness centre in Victoria said the program is welcomed with open arms.
“It is a huge commodity that will be a benefit to everyone,” said Our Place Society spokesperson Adam Flege said.
At least 2,272 people are believed to have died in British Columbia from illicit toxic street drugs in 2022.
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