Addiction: Ex-prisoner denounces lack of resources in prison

VANCOUVER – Vomiting, diarrhea, persistent stomach pain … Rob MacDonald had repeatedly requested treatment for his drug addiction before leaving a maximum security institution, but despite dozens of formal complaints, he did not receive any help.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I can not believe I’m going to be on the street with this addiction,'” said MacDonald recently, a week after being released under the supervision of Atlantic in Renous, New Brunswick, his fourth penitentiary in more than a decade behind bars.

The 41-year-old feared that his 15 years of opioid addiction would bring him back to crime and illicit drug use outside the walls. He was desperate to seek treatment from the Correctional Service of Canada.

“I submitted 150 requests, probably 70 complaints, for 15 months, trying to tell them,” Put me on it. I need it before leaving. I want help, I do not want to go back into the community in a high-risk situation, I do not want to do it again, “said the man in Halifax, where he lives in a halfway house.

He says that he complained to the director of the penitentiary and then appealed to the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada. One of his complaints to the Commissioner was successful, but he says he was placed on a waiting list because of the limited number of places for the treatment of inmates.

When he was incarcerated at Kent Institution in British Columbia from 2017 to 2019 for drug-related offenses and robberies, MacDonald says that debilitating withdrawal symptoms drove him to turn to life-threatening drugs containing fentanyl and smuggled into the prison.

“At least eight guys died in the 17 or 18 months I spent in Kent,” he said.

The Correctional Service recommended Mr. MacDonald to a Halifax clinic after his release almost two weeks ago. He is now prescribed an opioid substitute called Suboxone. But he believes he should have received the drugs in jail as part of the federal agency’s treatment program, which also includes methadone, and then be able to focus on finding work in the drug sector. construction to put his life back on track.

Insufficient treatments

The Correctional Investigator of Canada, Ivan Zinger, points out that the Correctional Service has failed to provide the appropriate treatment, programs and staff to many inmates with substance abuse problems.

“I think when you’re dealing with a lot of inmates who have such a long history of substance abuse, you should be providing a lot more treatments and programs in addition to opioid substitution therapy,” Zinger says. , who called for the reallocation of funding to provide these services.

“I do not see why the budget has remained the same and decreased in the past, as the number of incidents was clearly increasing,” he says of overdoses leading to the deaths of 41 inmates from 2010 to 2018 .

Mr. Zinger regretted that treatment programs were provided just before detainees were released rather than throughout their incarceration.

“It’s a problem when you have a population of very dependent detainees who have a lot of time and who are sometimes in difficult detention conditions. They will find a way to bring in drugs. ”

The Correctional Service said in a statement that the number of prisoners who had access to treatment in the last two years had increased by 66%, and by 115% in the Pacific region, where the opioid crisis is the most serious .

He did not respond to requests for information as to whether his budget would be increased to meet the demand for additional treatments.

Brutal withdrawal

Kent Elson, an inmate’s lawyer at Joyceville Institution in Kingston, Ontario, says the Correctional Service has not adapted to his client’s addiction. He filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission last November.

Mr. Elson explains that his 50-year-old client, who is serving a four-year prison sentence, was using methadone, but that his drug was suspended without explanation for five days when he was transferred another establishment in November 2017.

“He needed medical help and he was forced to wean himself up in an isolation cell full of excrement, as well as being abused by the guards. And it was so unbearable that he tried to kill himself three times, “Elson said from Toronto.

Although the Correctional Service’s guidelines state that a physician is required to examine inmates before they are weaned from methadone or Suboxone, Elson assures that his client was not seen by a physician .

“This whole experience was incredibly traumatic and he ended up suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

“The impact on him has been terrible, but everyone will be a winner if the prisoners receive the right treatment. Suffering from post-traumatic stress will not make them easier to reintegrate into society. ”

The Correctional Service did not respond to a request for comment on the human rights complaint filed by Mr. Elson or Prisoners’ Legal Services in June 2018 on behalf of inmates who accused Correctional Service of Canada of discrimination against them.

Nicole Kief, an attorney with the BC-based organization, said about 100 inmates had three main concerns: long waiting lists for treatment, discontinuation of Suboxone treatment after false accusations of diversion of treatment and lack of follow-up in addiction.

“Among the people I spoke to, there was a real sense of urgency. People called me and said, “I’m afraid to die,” she said.

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