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OD prevention sites possible at Canada’s prisons: Correctional Service

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VANCOUVER — Canada’s prisoner service is considering opening overdose prevention sites as it expands a needle-exchange program that is now offered at a fifth institution for offenders who inject smuggled drugs.

In a statement, the Correctional Service of Canada says it “is in the early stages of exploring overdose prevention sites as another harm-reduction measure option for inmates.”

Proponents say Drumheller Institution in Alberta is being looked at as a potential site, which would allow offenders to use illicit drugs under medical supervision. The correctional service did not respond to inquiries to confirm that.

Jason Godin, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said he has long lobbied for overdose prevention sites and that one has been proposed for Drumheller.

“At the very least, let’s start opening up (the sites) so we can get away from the needle-in-the-cell thing,” he said, adding supervised drug use would involve health-care professionals at a particular area in a prison instead of guards having to deal with inmates injecting smuggled drugs in their cells.

He said the needle-exchange program, which began last year, should be scrapped because nurses and doctors aren’t available at most institutions after 4 p.m. in case inmates overdose so sites dedicated to prevention make more sense, as long as they are adequately staffed.

“So far, the government hasn’t agreed to giving us 24-hour-a-day health care,” he said.

“They want us to stop drugs from coming in and yet they’re handing them a needle and saying go ahead and use drugs if you want to.”

The correctional service said its needle-exchange program is aimed at preventing the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, as well as skin infections from shared equipment as part of other harm-reduction measures including access to peer-support workers and the opioid substitution medications methadone and Suboxone.

The Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., implemented a prisoner needle-exchange program earlier this month after it was introduced last June at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., and the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B. It was expanded to the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in Abbotsford, B.C., and the Edmonton Institution for Women this year.

Godin said at least two security issues have been reported since the needle-exchange program was rolled out, one involving a missing needle and another when an inmate left his injection kit out with the cell door open, potentially allowing unauthorized access to the equipment that could have posed a danger to guards or others.

The correctional service said there was only one incident when an offender did not follow proper procedure and the person was “reassessed and counselled,” though it declined to provide details.

“Inmates who participate in the (program) are required to keep their needle kit safely stored in their cells,” it said, adding a lost kit or one with unaccounted-for items as well as unauthorized use of equipment could result in an inmate being disciplined.

The service said 13 inmates have been approved for the needle-exchange program at the five institutions but only five people are participating in the program because the remainder were either released or transferred to prisons that have not yet begun offering the service.

Peter Brown, a former offender who served three federal sentences at various institutions in Eastern Canada between 1992 and 1999 for crimes including robbery, said a needle-exchange program as well as overdose prevention sites are essential behind bars because drug use is common.

Brown, 45, said he began using intravenous drugs in 1996 while he was serving time at the Atlantic Institution in Renous and continued until 2014, long after he was released.

“I shared, many, many times, syringes that other people used. I watched guys in there share needles in a group of five or six and sit around using the same syringe, going around in a circle,” he said from Halifax, where he is completing a social services program while serving as a national board member for the Seventh Step Society, which provides peer support for ex-offenders.

Brown said he used bleach provided by the correctional service to repeatedly rinse his needles and syringes to try and avoid transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. The service said bleach is still distributed to inmates for that reason.

Sandra Ka Hon Chu, director of research and advocacy for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said bleach is not as effective a method of avoiding transmission of blood-borne diseases as clean needles, which the group began lobbying for nearly two decades ago in keeping with similar programs in many European countries.

Chu said the correctional service’s needle-exchange program is “fundamentally flawed” because it provides inadequate access and the application process is onerous, requiring multiple levels of approval.

“You can be denied access for what they perceive as some incompatibility with the program that’s not related to health,” she said. “It’s a health-care program at its very root and it’s being framed as a security issue that’s being prioritized over health and that’s not something you see in the community.”

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

 

 

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Overdose prevention services in Red Deer will soon transition to a mobile site operated by Alberta Health Services

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Next steps for Red Deer overdose prevention site

Alberta’s government continues to make overdose prevention services available across the province while also ensuring the safety of communities and neighbourhoods is a top priority. Alberta’s government will be working in partnership with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Turning Point over the next three to six months to implement the transition to a mobile overdose prevention site operated by AHS.

This transition is necessary to respond to the changing needs in Red Deer while improving the standard of service delivery at the overdose prevention site. Alberta’s government will continue working closely with the City of Red Deer and the broader community to put the safety and security of the community first while continuing to provide overdose prevention services in a professional manner.

“Overdose prevention services are healthcare services that must meet quality standards to ensure the safety of the community and a high-standard of care. Alberta Health Services is an accountable and proven operator that has experience managing these services across Alberta. My ministry will be working closely with AHS and the current operator over the next few months to smoothly transition these operations, ensuring there are no gaps in service for clients of the services.”

Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction

“We appreciate the leadership of the government of Alberta in this area. We thank Turning Point for their service and the lives saved over the past several years. Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Red Deerians is a top priority, and we are confident this new AHS-operated mobile site will continue to meet the needs of our residents.”

Ken Johnston, Mayor of Red Deer

Once the transition occurs, the new AHS-operated mobile unit will initially operate at the same location as the current overdose prevention site. Alberta’s government will continue to work with the City of Red Deer, and may change the location of the service within Red Deer based on input from the municipality ­and the changing needs of the community.

As with all overdose prevention services in the province, this mobile unit will be regulated and be required to meet the quality standards outlined in the Recovery-oriented Supervised Consumption Standards in order to be licensed. Overdose prevention site service providers must also demonstrate clearly defined referral pathways to detox, treatment and recovery services, as well as primary health-care services.

Alberta’s government is continuing to build a recovery-oriented system of care, where everyone struggling with addiction and mental health challenges is supported in their pursuit of recovery. This includes adding more than 9,000 new publicly funded treatment spaces, eliminating fees for residential addiction treatment, launching the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS) app and expanding opioid agonist treatment.

Quick facts

  • To be licensed, supervised consumption site service providers need to follow requirements related to:
  • the safety and security of clients, employees and the surrounding community
  • standardized data collection
  • staff qualifications and training
  • clinical practice standards
  • good neighbour agreements
  • physical site requirements, such as having access to washrooms for clients
  • Health Canada is responsible for granting exemptions under Section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow supervised consumption sites to operate. Overdose prevention sites require a similar exemption under Section 56(1) of the act or a letter of authorization from the Government of Alberta under the authority of the province’s class exemption.
  • Alberta spends more than $1 billion annually on addiction and mental health care and supports, including prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.
  • Any Albertan struggling with addiction can contact 211 Alberta to connect with local services and virtual supports. 211 is free, confidential and available 24-7.
  • The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program provides same-day access to addiction medicine physicians and life-saving medications to Albertans across the province. Albertans can call 1-844-383-7688 seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
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Health

Liberals table bill delaying medically assisted dying expansion to March 2024

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OTTAWA — The federal government is seeking to delay the extension of assisted dying eligibility to people whose sole condition is a mental disorder until March 17, 2024.

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill seeking the extension in the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Liberal government agreed to expand eligibility in its 2021 update to assisted dying law after senators amended the bill, arguing that excluding people with mental illness would violate their rights.

That law put a two-year clock on the expansion that is set to expire on March 17. The Liberals now have six weeks to pass the new legislation, which would add another year to the delay.

Lametti said earlier that he is expecting agreement among other parties and senators to pass the bill in that short time frame.

Helen Long, CEO of advocacy organization Dying With Dignity Canada, said in a statement that keeping people with mental disorders from accessing assisted dying is “discriminatory and perpetuates the stigma that they do not have the capacity to make decisions about their own health care.”

Before Lametti tabled the bill, the group had urged the federal government to make the delay “short and effective.”

But Conservative MP Michael Cooper said on Twitter that the delay is not enough and the “dangerous expansion” needs to be scrapped altogether.

Tories have argued that it is difficult for doctors to tell when a person’s suffering due to a mental disorder is past the point of treatment, so the policy could lead to avoidable deaths.

“One year won’t resolve the problems. Experts are clear that irremediability cannot be determined for mental illness,” Cooper said.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett was expected to join Lametti at a news conference about the delay later on Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.


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