Pubdate: Wed, 09 Aug 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Patrick White
Page: A3


The surge of illicit fentanyl endangering lives on Canadian streets
has now flooded into the country's prisons, posing a greater threat to
those working in an already perilous job.

In the past three weeks, at least nine federal correctional officers
have been exposed to the lethal drug, according to one union official,
putting staff on high alert for a substance they often can't detect
until it's too late. There have been no reported fatalities involving
correctional officers, but several inmate deaths owing to fentanyl

"The problem with fentanyl is that it's so small that it can be easily
hidden or mixed in with substances," said Ryan DeBack, the Prairies
region vice-president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
"It can be airborne, it can be in powder form. I could walk into a
cell without seeing it and suddenly I'm [exposed]."

The stories behind the prison fentanyl exposures demonstrate the guile
required to traffic drugs within jails.

In mid-July, several Correctional Service staff members were exposed
while inspecting inmate mail. "Someone was sending fentanyl through
institutional mail," Mr. DeBack said. "There were drugs in this one
letter that was opened on a desk. Minutes later six staff are
exposed." The opioid antidote naloxone was administered to two of the

In another case, fentanyl powder blew into a correctional officer's
face as they were inspecting an inmate's book.

Mr. DeBack was informed of another instance in which an inmate's fan
blew some fentanyl powder into the air. "An officer breathed that in
and down he goes," Mr. DeBack said.

Correctional Service Canada started alerting staff to the dangers of
fentanyl exposure as far back as 2012, according to spokesperson Avely
Serin. Last month, the Service instructed staff to use specific
protective equipment when the presence of fentanyl or its analogues is
suspected. The equipment includes nitrile gloves, masks and safety
goggles. Prison medical staff have access to naloxone. "Despite all
the best precautions, there may be rare occasions when someone is
accidentally exposed to fentanyl or other highly toxic substances,"
Ms. Serin said.

The union argues that those safe handling requirements only kick in
once staff have detected three grams of highly toxic substances,
whereas other emergency responders don protective gear when just one
gram is detected. "We're saying that's not right," Union of Canadian
Correctional Officers national president Jason Godin said. "The
problem with fentanyl is that just something the size of a grain of
salt can harm you."

Officers working for provincial jail agencies have been exposed to
fentanyl as well. Earlier this year at Quinte Detention Centre, near
Kingston, several inmates and staff were hospitalized for fentanyl

Ontario officers have asked for more training about how to perform
certain vital tasks in the possible presence of fentanyl. "When we do
CPR, for example, we still have a requirement for a mouth-to-mouth
component," said Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of the corrections division
of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. "If you're trying to
save someone's life, you're not necessarily paying attention to
residue on their body or outfit. How we deal with all this is a huge
concern for our staff."

Illicit-drug use is prevalent among inmates. A 2007 survey of 3,370
inmates found that 17 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women
injected drugs in prison. For non-injection drugs, that rate increased
to 34 per cent among men and 25 per cent for women.

The fentanyl problem inside prisons is a reflection of the epidemic
raging outside. In B.C., 780 people died of illicit-drug overdoses in
the first half of 2017, with fentanyl being detected in 78 per cent of
cases. Between Jul. 27 and Aug. 1, six people died in Toronto from
suspected overdoses.

"There is a direct correlation between the increase of fentanyl across
the country and what we're now seeing in our institutions," Mr.
Vieselmeyer said. "We're still at the early stages. It's only going to
get worse."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt