Fair Warning

During a Covid-19 self-isolation period following a complainant’s return to PEI, he relapsed into serious alcohol abuse. With the help of the RCMP and paramedics, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) for treatment. While he waited to be transferred to the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility (PATF) for rehabilitation, he was given diazepam to treat his withdrawal symptoms.

After two days the complainant was told that the PATF’s pandemic protocols would not permit him to be admitted at the facility until his isolation period expired, which was still several days away. Through consultation with physicians at the QEH, he was released from care with the understanding that he would attend the PATF after his isolation period expired.

The complainant left QEH by himself in a taxi and decided to resume consuming alcohol. His next memory was waking up in custody and being criminally charged for something he did not remember. He was eventually convicted for those crimes. The complainant told us he learned about the possibility of a negative interaction between diazepam and alcohol.  He believed that this caused what he described as his uncharacteristically erratic behavior.

While he took personal responsibility for his actions, he complained to OmbudsPEI that he was not informed by QEH staff about the potential drug interactions between diazepam and alcohol prior to leaving QEH. He believed QEH staff should have reasonably suspected that he might start consuming alcohol again following his unsuccessful attempt to receive addictions treatment. He complained to HealthPEI about this, but he did not believe his concerns were understood or taken seriously.

We investigated whether HealthPEI followed a reasonable process during his discharge from QEH. HealthPEI told us that there was no written record of QEH staff telling the complainant about the potential negative interaction between alcohol and diazepam. They explained that while it was unlikely that the dosage and administration schedule of diazepam would have led to serious negative interactions with alcohol at the time of his release, HealthPEI acknowledged that it was possible that a negative interaction could occur. Recognizing this, HealthPEI apologized. They also committed to reviewing their discharge procedures regarding drug interaction warnings so that they may help prevent any failure to warn from occurring in the future. The complainant was satisfied with HealthPEI’s apology and was happy to learn that a review of its practices would occur.

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