By Erin Fawcett
A correctional officer at Bowden Institution is recovering after being exposed to a toxic substance while searching a cell earlier this week.
James Bloomfield, prairies regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said the toxic substance is currently being tested to determine what it is, but the reaction was similar to an opioid or fentanyl exposure.
“We did have an incident where an officer was exposed to an unknown substance. At this point the test results have not come back (as to what the substance was),” he said, adding the officer was in the cell as per a normal routine search. “The officer went into medical distress and we were able to perform first aid very quickly. Naloxone was administered on site to the officer and she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. There was more Naloxone and Narcan was also administered on the way in and again at the hospital.
“It was a serious exposure but we really don’t know what the chemical components of the product was.”
Bloomfield said the officer is now at home. “She is fine. Fortunately the staff reaction – they saved her life that night. She fortunately has come through this without any long term problems – there are no physical or lasting injury that we can tell at this point. Obviously there is going to be a stress component to it and mental health component to it. However, our service does have good programs to help us deal with this kind of thing.”
After the incident earlier this week, Bowden Institution was placed on lock down.
Meanwhile, Bloomfield said opioid substances, specifically fentanyl, have become a major problem in prisons across the country.
“We have the same issues as the street does in those scenarios. We did have overdoses in groups over the summer months,” he said, adding Drumheller in the region was where the majority of the issues took place but overdoses have also happened in institutions in Bowden, Grande Cache and in B.C.
He added the union is taking steps to help combat the issue.
“We had an officer who was exposed in British Columbia and that was the first one – that happened in September. As an immediate result of that we ended up getting the Naloxone in the prison system in areas where the staff can use it on the inmates and in cases where officers are exposed,” said Bloomfield. “We also do targeted searching, information-based searching and general searching. It’s continuous in all areas.”