Published Wednesday, August 9, 2017 11:27AM EDT
Union officials in Alberta say the fentanyl crisis is spreading to prisons, where a number of correctional officers came in contact with the potentially deadly opioid in recent weeks.
Jason Godin, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said that, in mid-July, six prison guards at the Edmonton Institution came into contact with fentanyl. Two were taken to hospital, and one required naloxone, medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
At the Bowden Institution just outside Red Deer, Alta., a correctional officer was hospitalized for 48 hours after being exposed to fentanyl, the union said.
Despite regular searches and security protocols, drugs still make their way into prisons across Canada. Some people go as far as using drones to deliver drugs to prisons, Godin said.
He said prison guards come into contact with fentanyl by conducting searches, performing CPR on inmates, sorting through mail or in other ways.
“That heightened (opioid) crisis is now reaching us in the institutional setting as well,” he told CTV Edmonton.
Godin said the union wants to see changes in prison rules when it comes to dealing with unknown, suspicious substances. He said police officers start taking safety precautions when dealing with just one gram of a potential drug, but that threshold is higher for prison guards, at three grams.
“The fentanyl coming into our facilities can be as lethal as on the streets,” he said.
In a statement to CTV Edmonton, Correctional Service of Canada said it recently issued protocol to frontline staff on the “handling, testing, storage, and disposal of highly toxic substances.”
“CSC recognizes the challenges associated with working in a correctional environment and is committed to providing a workplace that is conducive to the health and safety of all of its employees,” the statement said.
The escalating number of fentanyl overdoses across the country has prompted many front-line emergency responders to carry naloxone kits in case a patient needs the life-saving medicine. Police officers, paramedics and firefighters have also expressed concern about their own exposure to fentanyl while responding to overdose calls.
With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Angela Jung