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Canadian Federal Prison Poised To Introduce Heroin Injection Site For Inmates

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David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief

A federal prison in the Canadian province of Alberta is reportedly ready to begin the first supervised drug injection site for prisoners.

A correctional officers’ union says the facility in Drumheller — in the heart of the province’s dinosaur fossil country — could be up and running by the end of June, the National Post reported Friday.

Supervised injection sites already dot the Canadian urban landscape with numerous programs in operation in cities from Vancouver to Toronto. The sites allow drug addicts to inject themselves with heroin — illegal anywhere in Canada — without fear of police intervention.

The Trudeau government apparently wants to bring that convenience to prison. (RELATED: Trudeau Government Opening Up More Heroin Injection Sites)

The first such site in North America was opened in 2003 in Vancouver, B.C., a city that is currently experiencing record high levels of heroin and opioid overdoses, despite the original facility, and a second, being in operation. Vancouver is also looking at decriminalizing heroin use in a controversial attempt at reducing drug deaths.

InSite workers and supporters celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the future of the supervised drug injection clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia September 30, 2011. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that not allowing the clinic to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. REUTERS/Andy Clark

InSite workers and supporters celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the future of the supervised drug injection clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia Sept. 30, 2011.  REUTERS/Andy Clark

Correctional Service Canada (CSC), responsible for all federal penitentiaries in Canada, is neither confirming nor denying the report. But the Drumheller prison already has a needle exchange program that is also part of a “harm reduction” strategy aimed at reducing the prevalence of HIV and other diseases among drug users — even if they are in prison and shouldn’t have access to any drugs. (RELATED: Bill De Blasio Backs Government-Sponsored Heroin Injection Sites)

“CSC received an exemption from Health Canada to permit the implementation of an overdose prevention service at Drumheller Institution,” the government agency explained in an email to the National Post. “Discussions and planning concerning the implementation of an overdose prevention service are ongoing.”

But the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers apparently isn’t waiting for the government to issue a news release. Jeff Wilkins told the Post that the site will be open by the end of the month.

Talk of a supervised injection site coincides with the union’s growing opposition to the needle exchange program — a scheme they say is unsafe for the guards.

A man sleeps on a mattress next to the SCMR (Drug supervised injection site), the first supervised injection room for drug users, in Paris, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

A man sleeps on a mattress next to the SCMR (Drug supervised injection site), the first supervised injection room for drug users, in Paris, Oct. 17, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

“The correctional officers are dead set against the prison needle-exchange and the current way it’s being rolled out,” Wilkins told the Post.

Wilkins explained that guards are actually responsible for distributing the needles to the prisoner in their cells, something he said does absolutely nothing to stop needle sharing, or for that matter, keeping potentially lethal drugs from prisoners.

The union president said it would make more sense to just have a facility at the prison to deal with any drug overdose that results from illicit drug use.

Wilkins told the Post that guards have found at least one needle in the possession of a prisoner who did not receive it from a guard, indicating he got it from another prisoner.  “We know that they have the ability to share the needles that are being given to them by the government.”

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