People who work with sex assault victims say the family of benzodiazepines stolen from a Halifax hospital this month are the second most common drug used in sexual assaults, raising questions about why it was left in areas accessible by the public.

Halifax police say the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre contacted them on Aug. 14 after at least 16 vials holding five millilitres each of the drug midazolam was believed to be stolen from different floors of the Halifax Infirmary.

Midazolam is often used as a sedative for patients in cardiac arrest. Capital Health says the drug is essential for saving patients' lives.

midazolam

A Halifax hospital is missing sedatives that can be used as a date rape drug. (CBC)

The sedative is an odourless, tasteless, colourless liquid that police say can also be used as a date rape drug.

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre says between 20 and 40 per cent of reported cases involve date rape drugs, at least 20 each year.

“Quite often they don't have all the details so there's some gaps in their memory or sometimes they have no recall at all so they're less likely to report to us or police,” said Susan Wilson, Avalon’s sexual assault nurse examiner co-ordinator.

The Avalon Centre's sexual assault nurse examiners are available 24 hours a day at 902-425-0122

Wilson says if someone thinks they’ve been assaulted but aren’t sure, there are sexual assault examiner nurses based in the emergency rooms at the Halifax Infirmary, the Dartmouth General, the Cobequid Community Health Centre and the IWK Health Centre.

The theft has prompted the restaurant association to alert its members. Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, says sexual assault can happen anywhere.

Drugs removed from carts

“When it happens in a bar you have friends that are going to look after you. You have other eyes and ears. When you're going to a beach party you don't have that same opportunity so the risk is much higher,” he said.

The drug was kept in crash carts located around the hospital for emergencies, according to Capital Health lawyer Catherine Gaulton.

“They are covered carts. They are in public view. They are intended to be in public view so that there are generally people who are health care providers around who would be noticing if someone who shouldn’t have access would be going into those carts,” she said.

But no one noticed as vials of the drug went missing over a period of nine days.

The drug has since been removed from the carts at the hospital, but Gaulton says that's not an ideal situation.

“It is that balance of security for drugs and for drugs generally and how quickly we need them,” she said.

Police continue to investigate as they warn people to be careful in social settings.

The hospital says it has reviewed video but that hasn’t provided clues as to who stole the drug.