How B.C.'s fentanyl crisis is affecting the safety of prisoners, guards | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How B.C.'s fentanyl crisis is affecting the safety of prisoners, guards

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November 02, 2016 - 2:30 PM


THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - B.C.’s fentanyl crisis is no longer just on the streets, it’s entering correctional facilities and compromising the safety of guards, including a deputy sheriff in Nanaimo who was taken to hospital this week for exposure to a high-potency drug, likely fentanyl.

The union representing prison guards says it's part of a bigger problem for people who work with inmates – a lack of protection from deadly drugs like fentanyl. The province has already declared a health emergency because of the number of drug users overdosing, often fatally, on fentanyl.

More than half of B.C.'s illicit drug overdose deaths this year have been blamed on fentanyl, according to recent numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Spokesperson for the B.C. Government Employees Union Dean Purdy says the deadly substance, which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, has made its way into prisons, including Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre.

“The issue around contraband inside our correctional centres is as prevalent at KRCC as it is anywhere else,” he says. “KRCC is no different from that aspect.”

The Nanaimo sheriff has recovered from the incident, according to the Ministry of Justice. It says in a written statement that the employee returned to work the next day after receiving treatment, but Purdy fears the next person may not be so lucky.

"Our biggest concern is that we’re going to come across a high-potency dose of (fentanyl) and one of our officers is going to pay the ultimate sacrifice and be seriously injured or die on the job," Purdy says.

The ministry says the deputy sheriff was exposed to a “crystal-like substance” while searching an in-custody person who was about to be transported to court on Monday, Oct. 31.

“The deputy sheriff was following appropriate procedures for the search when the incident occurred, while wearing latex gloves,” the statement reads.

The prisoner was taken to court, which is where the sheriff began feeling ill. Emergency Health Services attended and the sheriff was taken to hospital.

The sheriff returned to work the next day, but B.C. Sheriff Services will remind and educate staff about the risk of handling high-potency narcotics. The ministry did not confirm what the substance was, but Purdy says the union was told the sheriff was exposed to fentanyl.

Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson Const. Gary O'Brien said two substances were involved, one appeared to be cocaine and residue of an unknown substance found on the prisoner is currently being investigated.

"All indications are that it may have been fentanyl," O'Brien said. "It’s a pretty significant event as far as we’re concerned.”

Nanaimo RCMP are investigating if all procedures were properly followed and they will determine if changes need to be made to protocol.


The BCGEU is meeting with the Corrections branch at the end of this week to discuss a risk assessment for allowing naloxone into prisons. Already, police, firefighters, various social agencies and even businesses are training in its use. But Purdy says the union wants naloxone in other forms so it doesn’t put anyone inside the jails at risk.

“We want to see it in the (nasal) spray form, we don’t want to see any needles… inside our prisons for obvious reasons around safety issues,” he says. “We want to have it readily available for staff and inmates.”

Purdy says naloxone is needed to protect the safety of both prisoners and guards, at a time where more drugs are entering correctional facilities.

“It’s always been an issue but never more so than right now,” he says. “We think there’s a direct correlation to the number of staff.”

Under-staffing in prisons is an issue the BCGEU has been speaking out about for years and Purdy says it’s having an impact on the amount and type of drugs coming into jails.

“The high-potency drugs are getting into our prison system, they’re in our communities and more and more people are overdosing on these types of high-potency drugs.”

The union is hopeful the Corrections branch will take its recommendations seriously after this week’s meeting.

“It’s our hope that it’ll be wrapped up in the very near future and some measures will be put in place around the procedures of… naloxone,” Purdy says. “We want to see them take an honest and fair look at this from an occupational health and safety standpoint.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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