Jeff Wilkins, president of Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says an overdose prevention site at Drumheller Institution will be a first in Canada. Photo contributed

Drumheller’s federal prison first in Canada to open overdose prevention site for inmates

A drug overdose prevention site in Drumheller Institution will be the first in Canada.

The current needle exchange program allows inmates in federal prisons to obtain an injection kit to keep in their cells.

“Illicit drugs are contraband,” the Correctional Service of Canada shared in an email.

“While we have measures in place to prevent drugs from entering institutions, we recognize that drugs on occasion will make their way into our penitentiaries. Recognizing this reality, we have a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of those under our care.”

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The Correctional Service of Canada will be establishing an overdose prevention site as an alternative to the present needle exchange program. It is scheduled to be rolled out at the end of June in Drumheller.

The institution was selected based on the health needs of the offender population, said the agency in its statement.

The service started rolling out the prison needle exchange program in January at federal institutions across the country. It has now been implemented in six of Canada’s 49 federal institutions.

The current needle exchange program is similar to the one in place for inmates who use other needles and syringes, such as Epipens and those for diabetic insulin use.

The purpose of the program is to prevent the sharing of needles and the transmission of infectious diseases among inmates who inject illicit drugs.

Inmates approved for the needle exchange program are provided with a needle kit that they must keep and use in their cell “for their use only,” the agency said.

An overdose prevention service would add to the agency’s efforts to help prevent the sharing of needles among inmates, limit the transmission of infectious diseases, facilitate referrals to health-care services and programs, and prevent fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

Jeff Wilkins, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said the current needle exchange program is putting the health and safety of correctional officers at risk.

“Dealing with needles is not our job,” Wilkins said.

“The (program) is currently operationalized by correctional officers, meaning that we are responsible for keeping track of the needles in our populations and medically intervening during potential overdoses.”

The message is clear: needles need to be removed from prison cells and the exisiting program must come to an end, said Wilkins.

“We have already witnessed the abuse of this program when an authorized needle was found in the cell of an inmate who was not authorized to have it,” Wilkins said.

“This model both provides for harm reduction, as the inmates would be using a clean needle, and allows for immediate medical intervention if a potential overdose situation were to occur,” said Wilkins.

The Correctional Service of Canada will implement the overdose prevention site at Drumheller before any decisions are made about additional sites.

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