There are just a few supervised consumption sites across Canada, most in hospitals or community health centres, but this month one of the harm reduction facilities could open in an entirely new location — a federal prison.
Jeff Wilkins, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, says the union has been told by Correctional Service Canada that the facility in the Drumheller penitentiary, in southern Alberta, will open by the end of this month.
“This is a kind of lesser of two evils approach for us,” said Wilkins, who added that the prison currently has a needle exchange program — meaning if inmates are using, it’s in the privacy of their cells.
Wilkins said the union has been in talks to end the needle exchange, which it feels puts officers in danger.
The current system sees clean needles handed out to inmates to prevent sharing. The new facility would be a sterile place for people to consume illegal substances under the supervision of health professionals.
“Not only is it a harm reduction strategy but it’s also an overdose prevention strategy too … the correctional officer is the first responder when [inmates] overdose, we’re the ones going in the cell, we’re the ones to administer CPR or the ones to administer first aid. We’re not doctors and we’re not nurses,” Wilkins said.
Correctional Service Canada said in March it was considering opening overdose prevention sites, but the agency has yet to confirm to CBC News whether a site will open in Drumheller.