Drug users increasingly injecting in hospital bathrooms: What hospitals are and aren't doing about it

Drug users are increasingly slipping into hospital restrooms to take heroin and other narcotics, reasoning their chances of accessing timely lifesaving medical attention in the event of an overdose are higher in such an environment, reports NPR.

"There's an understanding that if you overdose in and around a hospital that you're much more likely to be able to be treated," Ali Raja, MD, an emergency room physician at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, told NPR, "and so we're finding patients in our restrooms, we're finding patients in our lobbies who are shooting up or taking their prescription pain medications."

In Boston hospitals, naloxone — the antidote for a heroin overdose — has become standard equipment for hospital security guards so they can act quickly if they discover someone who has overdosed. Treating an overdose fast is critical, especially because heroin is often mixed with fentanyl, a highly addictive narcotic, which is far more potent and deadly.

Hospitals have also begun taking other measures to more closely monitor their bathrooms. One clinic installed an intercom system and requires people in the restroom to respond to indicate they are still conscious. Another installed a reverse motion detector that triggers an alarm if there is no movement in the bathroom, according to the report.

Although many have taken the initiative to address the issue, few hospital officials are willing to discuss it in public, Alex Walley, MD, director of the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program at Boston Medical Center, told NPR.

"It's against federal and state law to provide a space where people can use [illegal drugs] knowingly, so that is a big deterrent from people talking about this problem," he said, according to the report.

Dr. Walley and other addiction specialists said there are many ways to make bathrooms safer for both the public and drug users, according to the report. They describe a model restroom as being clean with adequate lighting, stainless steel surfaces and few cracks where people could hide drug paraphernalia. It would also contain a biohazard box for needles, naloxone and sterile water. Bathroom stall doors would open out so a collapsed body would not prevent someone from entering, and they would be easy to unlock from the outside. Additionally, the bathrooms should be monitored, preferably by a nurse or EMT. However, few public restrooms in the U.S. include these features, according to the report.

More articles on opioids:
AAAHC releases toolkit to reduce opioid over-prescription
White House proposes 95% budget reduction for 'drug czar' office: 7 things to know
Colleges respond to rising number of overdoses, deaths amid opioid epidemic

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