Nine overdoses reported at Saskatoon Correctional Centre in last two weeks

Nine overdoses reported at Saskatoon Correctional Centre in last two weeks
Fentanyl-laced drugs suspected as cause of nine overdoses at Saskatoon jail in two weeks
Nine inmates overdosed at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre in a two-week stretch on a substance officials believe is laced with fentanyl, according to Ministry of Corrections and Policing spokesperson Drew Wilby.

The inmates were all in the short-term remand unit. Wilby said the high turnover rate in the unit is part of the problem.

"You have people coming from court, you have people coming from the community, whether that be through the police and then remanded in, or through the court and remanded. So that does present challenges, it presents challenges of new arrivals, potentially new substances," he said.

​"Our team has been in there the past few days doing a full, basically a refurbishment of that unit, taking out all of the furniture, taking out all of the mattresses and putting in new, to try and address this issue," he said.

"Contraband drugs have been found," Wilby said. "Until this is put to rest it will definitely be a live concern."

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The provincial government says the facilitys drug problem, which is isolated to a single unit, is “acute.”

As many as nine opioid overdoses have been reported on a 36-bed unit at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre over the last two weeks. Gord Waldner / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The provincial government says the Saskatoon Correctional Centre has an “acute” drug problem after as many as nine opioid overdoses were reported on a single 36-bed remand unit over the last two weeks.

Drug problems at the jail came under scrutiny earlier this month when an inmate who was awaiting trial was found dead from a suspected opioid overdose — and multiple other incidents have been reported since then.

That is a concern not only to the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents the jail’s 374 active guards, but also the provincial government, which confirmed the rise in suspected overdoses.

“At this point in time, Saskatoon is experiencing a significant issue in one of its units. We haven’t seen that in any other facilities over the course of the last year,” Ministry of Corrections and Policing spokesman Drew Wilby said.

SGEU President Bob Bymoen said staff at the jail are growing increasingly concerned not only about their own safety, but about the safety of inmates who are their responsibility.

It’s unclear what specific drug is causing the overdoses. Wilby said it’s an opioid, possibly heroin or fentanyl, that is “suitcased” into the facility — smuggled in via a prearranged drop or simply thrown over the fence.

Bymoen said the string of overdoses suggests the government needs to examine all of its security processes and procedures, but noted that security is an ongoing concern and “as you plug one hole another gets opened.”

By way of example, Wilby said the correctional centre used to have problems with drugs smuggled in through the mail. Procedures were adjusted to solve that problem, and the same work is underway now, he added.

That includes increased patrols inside the facility, security intelligence officers tasked with sniffing out drug use and a body scanner pilot project in Regina that could eventually be expanded to other correctional centres, Wilby said.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, six were reported at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre, the provincial women’s jail in Prince Albert.

Wilby said the six women “showed signs of impairment,” and four were hospitalized. One of the women remains in hospital, he added.

“What’s happening in there, it’s really a reflection of what happens on the street … We have those same concerns in facilities as well,” Wilby said, noting that drug smuggling is happening across the province.

Medavie Health Services West confirmed paramedics had been dispatched to the jail nine times this month, including three times for suspected overdoses. Spokesman Troy Davies said it wasn’t clear what the remaining six calls were for.