Could more methadone be the answer to Saskatoon Correctional Centre overdoses?

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WATCH ABOVE: A Saskatoon-based methadone manager says he's not surprised to hear that there have been nine overdoses in November at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre – Nov 28, 2018

It’s a secure facility focused on keeping inmates from getting out but the union for guards at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre says not enough is being done to keep drugs from getting in.

“We’re asking the ministry to take a closer look at their security provisions that are in place, the number of staff available on any given shift and the type of searches that are happening going into the centres,” SGEU president Bob Bymoen said.

READ MORE: Combating drugs inside Saskatchewan’s correctional centres

In November, there was nine overdoses at the facility including one that was fatal. They all occurred in one area, a unit for newly admitted inmates and short-term remand stays.

While strip searches are conducted at the correctional institution, body cavity searches are not permitted. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice suspects that’s how the substances are making their way into the facility and have heightened intelligence as a result.

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A photo of an ambulance leaving Saskatoon Correction Centre.
A photo of an ambulance leaving Saskatoon Correction Centre. File / Global News

Body scanners will be another method to detect drug smuggling in 2019 at provincial institutions, but an expert in opioid addiction recovery says he’s not sure they’ll work nor was he surprised to hear about the recent overdoses.

“Their choice is to detox in a cell with minimal support or to look for something to fix the withdrawal so it opens the door to illicit drug-use,” said Morris Markentin, Opioid Agonist Therapy program manager with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: Naloxone made more widely available in Saskatchewan

In order to curb addiction urges on the inside, Markentin suggests a opiate substitution therapy like methadone.

According to the ministry, withdrawal protocol has been introduced and all provincial adult facilities offer methadone programming but says it’s only for inmates who were already taking the medicine prior to being arrested.

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“When you’re starting someone on an aggressive treatment program like methadone,  you need to make sure you have them for a period of time where you can monitor them, you can stabilize them and you can make sure that all of that is in place,” Justice Ministry spokesperson Drew Wilby said.

“Having someone for a couple of weeks, it would do more harm than good.”

READ MORE: Perspectives on Saskatoon’s evolving opioid crisis

In many cases, individuals who were on this unit would be there less than three weeks, but Markentin isn’t buying it.

“To say that it’s more harm than good is just an excuse not to do the right thing and that’s an inflammatory statement but why aren’t we doing the right thing?”

According to Wilby, a recent social media post by Markentin can only be described as an attack through a tweet and to say that methadone is the only thing that will solve this issue is completely inaccurate.

“Our staff are doing a great job to try to address these issues and we need to try to work together to find solutions in an effective, positive effective manner.”

Meanwhile, Markentin said he agrees more can be done to support inmates in the community and there could be better health linkages upon someone’s release.

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He is willing to work proactively with the ministry saying they can’t combat this war against drugs alone and that new federal funding for the opioid crisis is a good start.