As reports of hand sanitizer use rise, so do fears of homeless people in Labrador

The manager of a Happy Valley-Goose Bay hotel that serves as a for-profit homeless shelter is sounding the alarm after seeing residents taken to hospital for drinking hand sanitizer hands.

Bill Dormody says he has called paramedics more than a dozen times over the past few weeks after finding residents inconsistent, unresponsive, coughing up blood and, at times, with blood coming from their ears and eyes .

“I’m afraid someone will die,” Dormody told CBC News.

Hand sanitizer with high alcohol content has become more readily available during the COVID-19 pandemic and is much cheaper than alcohol.

This is the latest concern in a long line of issues plaguing the Happy Valley-Goose Bay homeless community.

Health Canada has warned that even small amounts of hand sanitizer can be dangerous or deadly.

Dormody said he constantly finds bottles of water mixed with disinfectant. Even drinks like soft drinks and Purity syrup have been used to mix with the disinfectant.

“It’s pretty awful, actually. I find they go from a completely normal state to a state of numbness, very, very limited motor skills, mimicking being under the influence of the ordinary, but different alcohol,” Dormody said.

“They immediately go from completely consistent to inconsistent.”

Dormody said hotel staff had to call the police more than two dozen times in the past two weeks.

RCMP told CBC News they have noted an increase in calls to the Labrador Inn, although police have not broken down the number linked to possible alcohol or disinfectant poisoning.

Police say there have been 58 calls for service at the hostel so far this month, including reports of assault, disturbance, property damage and sexual assault.

Empty hand sanitizer bottles have been gathered around the Labrador Inn, after residents drank diluted bottles of the liquid, which contains a high alcohol content. (Submitted by Bill Dormody)

Hand sanitizer abuse isn’t just Labrador Inn’s problem.

Jeff Matthews, the city’s homeless shelter coordinator and housing liaison, said he started noticing the product was missing a few months ago.

“We started to wonder, you know, could customers ingest it? And unfortunately, a few customers told us that when they were hanging out with others, some of them had ingested the sanitizer,” he said. said Matthews.

Matthews said everyone at Housing Hub is concerned about the potential consequences.

Some brands of hand sanitizer contain ethanol and methanol, which can blind a person and damage their organs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States issued an official warning in August 2020 about the dangers of drinking hand sanitizer after the deaths of four people and dozens of critically ill people.

“The struggle we encounter is trying to determine if a customer is intoxicated by what we would call regular alcohol or if it is actually disinfectant,” Matthews said.

“Sometimes I guess there might be a bit of shame in admitting you might have drunk it.”

The Housing Hub removed disinfectant from the entrance and placed signs in the shelter warning of the risks.

A meeting is scheduled with Labrador-Grenfell Health, he said.

Indication of a larger problem

Matthews and Dormody say the new phenomenon speaks to the severity of addiction in the community.

“A lot of our clientele here suffers from trauma-induced issues, and their only way to deal with that is through alcohol or drugs,” Dormody said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Labrador-Grenfell Health said its mental health and addictions service works closely with clients and community stakeholders to educate them about substance use disorders.

Jeff Matthews is the Coordinator and Housing Liaison for Housing Hub, a homeless shelter operated by the Nunatsiavut Government in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Radio Canada)

“Focusing on harm reduction helps reduce the stigma around substance abuse, keep people safe, and build safe and supportive communities,” the health authority said.

Officials added that an information brochure has been developed by mental health and addictions teams “to raise awareness of risks, risk mitigation, warning signs and responses when materials are consumed. dangerous and poisonous”.

Meanwhile, Dormody said the Labrador Inn has never been busier, with more than 30 people sheltering in the hotel.

“I think more needs to be done. There needs to be awareness, and we certainly need to be as diligent as we have been and [will] keep doing it.”

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