Pubdate: Fri, 22 Dec 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Jonny Wakefield
Page: A3


Higher-potency opioids lead to concerns about how to keep inmates and
staff safe

Alberta correctional facilities have recorded more than 120 overdoses
in the past two years, and dozens more in federal prisons in the
province, new statistics show.

Postmedia obtained the data after a string of overdoses at the
Edmonton Remand Centre.

Since Nov. 29, at least three inmates at the remand centre have been
found unresponsive in their cells after apparent overdoses, one of
whom died.

Despite efforts to keep contraband out of correctional institutions -
including the use of ion scanners, body scanners and detector dogs -
the statistics show deadly opioids such as fentanyl are still getting

Between January 2016 and Nov. 30 of this year, 122 suspected overdoses
were reported in provincial correctional facilities, 95 per cent
involving opioids, according to Alberta Health Services. Three
provincial inmates have died of overdoses in the past two years.

Another 46 overdoses were reported in federal correctional
institutions in Alberta between 2015-16 and this fiscal year,
Correctional Service Canada data shows. Thirty of those - more than 65
per cent - were at Drumheller Institution, a minimum-to
medium-security facility east of Calgary that has about 40 per cent of
Alberta's federal prison beds.

The others happened at Bowden Institution with nine overdoses,
Edmonton Institution with six overdoses and Grande Cache Institution
with one overdose.

Twelve people have died of overdoses in Canada's federal prisons since
2015, but a Correctional Service Canada spokeswoman would not provide
a regional breakdown of those deaths, citing privacy reasons.

Scott Conrad, chair of AUPE Local 003 and a correctional officer at
the Calgary Remand Centre, said the provincial overdose numbers would
likely double when you include overdoses where a correctional officer
administers naloxone and the patient is not hospitalized.

He said overdoses have "spiked" in the past 18 months. That's a
concern for staff at the jail, who have reportedly fallen ill after
touching opioids. He said he knew of at least 12 cases where officers
were examined in hospital "due to cross-contamination of opioids."

"It's not just the correctional officers, it's the nurses, it's the
public works department that has to go into these cells … and do
repairs," he said. "The plethora of people who come into contact with
these inmates who overdose, it's really disturbing."

Inmates smuggle the majority of drugs into correctional facilities, he

Contract workers, correctional officers and lawyers have also been
caught smuggling drugs and other contraband.

In an email, Correctional Service Canada said the agency uses regular
searches, ion scanners and detector dogs to catch people smuggling
drugs into its facilities.

This fall, in response to inmate overdoses, the provincial
government-run Edmonton Remand Centre installed the province's first
body scanner, an X-ray machine similar to those at airports that can
detect weapons and drugs. That includes drugs hidden in body cavities.

Security director Ken Johnston told reporters at the time that there
hasn't been an increase in contraband being smuggled into the facility.

"It's the potency of what's coming in that is raising the concerns,"
he said.

Correctional Service Canada facilities do not use body scanners, the
agency said in a written statement.

Conrad said he "fully" supports body scanners. However, he said the
scanner at the remand is not fully functional because there still
aren't enough staff trained in its use.

"As the union, we brought those concerns forward," he

Despite upfront costs of around $580,000, he said body scanners would
save money in the long run - for example, on wrongful death lawsuits
brought by family members of inmates exposed to drugs in jail.

Both federal and provincial agencies said that in addition to
targeting the drug supply, they are working to reduce demand through
treatment programs.

AHS started a pilot project at the Calgary Correctional Centre to
offer opioid dependency treatment to patients with substance abuse
issues, a spokesperson said in a written statement. The program could
be expanded to other centres after a six-month evaluation.

As of Nov. 27, Alberta had recorded 482 accidental drug overdose
deaths in 2017 related to opioids, up 40 per cent from the same period
last year.
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