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Union says opioids endanger guards, wants protocols changed

Two Edmonton correctional officers hospitalized after July exposure


EDMONTON (The Canadian Press) — Union officials say opioids are spreading to prisons and that’s putting prison guards at risk.

Jason Godin, president of the Union of Correctional Services, tells CTV News that officers can come into contact with fentanyl in a number of ways, such as doing first aid on an inmate who has overdosed, by handling mail and by conducting searches.

Godin says back in mid-July at the maximum-security Edmonton Institution, six officers were exposed to the potentially deadly opioid.

Two of those were taken to hospital, and another had to be given naloxone, a medication to reverse an opioid overdose.

At Bowden Institution, one guard had to be hospitalized for 48 hours after coming into contact with fentanyl.

Godin says such incidents should be considered a wake-up call that protocols need to change for workers in this field.

He says police officers start taking safety precautions when dealing with just one gram of an unknown substance, but for prison guards, that threshold is three grams.

“We should be the same as any law enforcement.”

In a statement to CTV, Correctional Service Canada declined to answer questions on the issue, but said it issued a protocol on the matter this past July.

“This protocol provides staff with guidelines on which personal protective equipment and strategies to use when the presence of highly toxic substances is suspected, in order to keep employees, offenders and members of the public safe.”

At the Remand Centre, a provincial institution, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith says workers have noticed an increase in opioids.

“Our members have noticed a lot more on the frontlines,” says Smith, adding none of his members have yet come into contact with fentanyl.

Copyright (c) 2017 The Canadian Press