Substance Use

Nurses on the frontlines of the toxic drug crisis: Anton Oosthuizen

Anton Oosthuizen works at St. Paul's Hospital as an Addiction Medicine Consult team liaison nurse.

We’ve launched a series of staff profiles to highlight the important role of nurses who work in substance use care amid the toxic drug crisis. We’ve already introduced you to Loraine Belleza and Naomi Watt. Now, meet Anton Oosthuizen, Liaison Nurse in the Addiction Medicine Consult Team.

There were many reasons why Anton Oosthuizen decided to become a substance-use nurse. But one factor in particular stood out.

“I was loathe to see that despite the recommendations… of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada,” he says, “the Indigenous population is still massively, disproportionately affected by the negative effects of substance use.”

The numbers bear this out. Although only three per cent of British Columbia’s population is Indigenous, members of this population accounted for almost 15 per cent of all toxic-drug deaths in 2020.

Fielding inquiries from St. Paul’s substance-use teams

Oosthuizen is a Liaison Nurse with Providence Health Care’s Addiction Medicine Consult Team. In that role, he manages calls and inquiries about substance-use care from nurses throughout St. Paul’s Hospital.

“I help them with everything from how to talk to someone about their substance use to giving new and unfamiliar medications.” He also works closely with teams to determine discharge plans for complex patients.

Oostenhuizen has been a nurse for almost eight years, and has worked in substance use for about five of those. “But I worked with people who use substances prior to that. I have stayed in the field largely, I suspect, because of my… passion for social justice. Throughout this time, due to the ongoing toxic drug crisis, things have gotten much worse for people who use substances.”

He saw discrimination and barriers confronted by people who use substances. Those factors were hampering their ability to seek and receive care. “That really rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to do everything I could to help change things for this already marginalized population.”

After Oosthuizen worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse for many years, he then become a Registered Nurse. He also amassed plenty of relevant on-the-job experience at Providence by working in the Urban Health in-patient unit, the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic, Crosstown Clinic, and as a fill-in for an addiction-focused role in the Emergency Department.

He recommends resources like the BC Centre on Substance Use Nursing Fellowship for anyone wishing to work in the field.

It’s no surprise the work can be stressful. Oosthuizen says the ability to multitask and prioritize are must-have skills for the job. So are strong interpersonal skills. “The ability to laugh at absurd situations certainly helps,” he adds. To unwind, he spends a lot of time with his dog and is involved with musical projects.

What really keeps him going, he says, is the inspiration he draws from the resilience of people living with substance-use issues.