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Prison overdose prevention program expands to Ontario

A correctional officer looks on at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, during a tour of the facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

While Canada battles an opioid epidemic, Correctional Service Canada is looking at how to address the same issue in its prisons.

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Starting in the fall, it will launch an overdose prevention site at Collins Bay Correctional Facility in Kingston.

Originally started in 2019 at the Drumheller Institution in Alberta, the program will be the first of its kind in Ontario.

“The courts mandated the CSC to come up with a program to mitigate the spread of disease, and this is their measure to combat that,” says Chris Bucholtz, Ontario regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

“I know my members respond quite often to overdoses inside the walls.”

A 2020 report from Correctional Service Canada found that between 2018 and 2019, there was a 30 per cent increase in non-fatal overdoses from the previous year, with 110 non-fatal overdoses and six suspected fatal incidents.

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The program will be overseen by medical staff, and while CSC will not be providing illegal drugs to inmates, it will give them a safe place to use drugs smuggled in from the outside.

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The union for correctional officers is behind the move but admits it’s counter to how they have dealt with contraband drugs in the past.

“That’s the moral dilemma, right? Amongst our members and stuff, we know they’re illegal drugs; we’re supposed to keep drugs out of our institutions, yet they’re going to be walking to an overdose prevention site inside the walls to consume,” Bucholtz says.

Correctional Service Canada reports that there has not been a single fatal overdose in the four years since the safe consumption site launched at Drumheller.

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According to the 2020 report, Drumheller dealt with 16 overdoses in 2018 and none in 2019.

The report also found that between 2018 and 2019, Collins Bay had the highest number of overdoses at 21.

The executive director for Trellis HIV and Community Care, Gille Charette, says she has seen first hand the value of these types of programs.,

“We know that these facilities work, and they result in a dramatic decrease in drug poisoning death as well as diversion from hospital emergency rooms,” Charette says.

Collins Bay will now be the third federal prison to host an overdose prevention site, following Drumheller and the newest site at Springhill Correctional Facility in Nova Scotia, which launched this past summer.

— with files from Global News’ Fawwaz Muhammad-Yusuf


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