The fentanyl crisis has gripped the province unlike any other drug in recent memory, and corrections officers and first responders are at the forefront of the battle.
Last week Corrections Canada reported that 16 corrections officers may have been exposed to the deadly drug between December 2015 and September of this year. According to the report, there were three instances at the Drumheller Institution. It was not disclosed whether medical attention was needed.
According to regional president of the Union of Corrections Officers (UCCO) James Bloomfield, that number might be much higher.
“We have had probably the most seizures out of Drumheller of both carfentanyl and fentanyl,” said Bloomfield. The staff there has saved well over 25 lives. “We have had up to eight overdoses at one time in separate locations. The staff there has been unbelievably aware, unbelievably quick in their response. They have done an amazing job.”
He adds that the list provided by Corrections does not mention any instances at the Bowden Institution. He has learned that eight officers at Bowden were exposed to something and were sent to a hospital.
“I can’t actually dispute the number of exposures, the reality about how we are being exposed is that it is in small amounts. A couple of grains could be enough to send someone over the edge if they have never been exposed to something like that before. The problem is that it is not very detectable. Once that minute amount is in your system it can do the damage it does; to detect it is very difficult because a lot of times it is mixed with other drugs. So getting a clear case where I can say I have had eight officers.” He says it is less important that they identify the drug than it is to react to health consequences.”
“The reality is I don’t care what you call it, the reality is there is something highly toxic that is definitely a serious concern for all first responders. As we go through the process it shouldn’t be labeled as Fentanyl, it has to be labeled as highly toxic substances. We have fentanyl, carfentanyl, and a lot of other stuff that is just as toxic and deadly.”
Bloomfield explains drugs in an institution are reflective of what is on the street. He says as the drug became prominent, Corrections Canada brought in the naloxone kits to all of their institutions in accessible points, and they have been effective.
“One of our biggest issues right now is we are discussing how we are going to do first aid, CPR for example. If an individual in a cell is down and unresponsive, there is a good possibility there is powder around. We are supposed to put on our N95 masks to take out any airborne particles. However, the second we get in the cell we have to preserve life first. Which means we have to take that N95 mask off and get down within eight milliliters of this inmate’s face and start blowing breathes into him. It becomes the opposite of the safety procedures that are there now, so we are working with Correction Canada on that to get that in line.”
“The reality is we are in a very dangerous place when we are in these cells dealing with these substances,” said Bloomfield.