Every month, approximately 50 people experience an overdose in a bathroom setting in B.C.* As many people who use substances face stigma, despite the risks associated with using substances alone, many consider bathrooms a private place where they won't face judgment. Restricting access to bathrooms or implementing measures to discourage substance use in bathrooms also does not work. Instead, doing so increases risks for people who use substances.
In response to this ongoing concern, with funding from the Michael Smith Foundation, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) collaborated with scientist Marilou Gagnon from the University of Victoria's Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research to develop a toolkit to support organizations reduce the risk of overdoses occurring in their washrooms.
The toolkit, which can be found at saferbathrooms.ca, includes a modified safety checklist from the VCH washroom checklist developed in 2017. It also provides posters, a safer bathroom policy template, case scenarios and architect-design diagrams of safer bathroom best practices.
Speaking about the toolkit, VCH Clinical Nurse Educator Shannon Riley said, “This toolkit is a valuable resource for organizations to promote harm reduction. It is practical and accessible. Even making minor changes like ensuring all staff carry a key to open the bathroom could be life-saving for your clients or customers."
As part of the study, they completed a stakeholder survey in 2021 and there was an overwhelming interest in this toolkit as currently there are limited overdose response educational supports for organizations that provide access to bathrooms. The toolkit is publicly available on the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research's website, to ensure anyone looking for support can access this valuable resource."
Kali-olt Sedgemore, a VCH Harm Reduction Peer Support Staff and Mentor, played an essential role in ensuring that the perspectives of people with lived or living experiences were foundational to the toolkit's development. They said, “Businesses often offer bathrooms to their clients, but client safety is a factor that must also be carefully considered. People are going to use drugs in bathrooms, no matter what. Applying practices from this toolkit is one way businesses that offer bathrooms can help keep their clients safe."
For further information about VCH's harm reduction services, visit the VCH website.
*These data are based on 9-1-1 calls to B.C. Emergency Health Services where it was documented an overdose had occurred in a washroom setting.