The powerful drug that sources inside the Barton Street jail say killed a 38-year-old inmate was likely stolen or sold by a pharmacy employee, a prescription painkiller expert says.

The powdered methadone that 38-year-old Marty Tykoliz reportedly took before an overdose stopped his heart isn’t something that’s easy to get your hands on, says Norm Buckley, the director of Hamilton Health Science’s pain clinics. A small amount of the drug was stolen from a Hamilton pharmacy last month — but police are adamant that it's impossible to draw a definite line between the two incidents.

“Somebody from inside a pharmacy would have had to sell the stuff or it was stolen,” Buckley told CBC Hamilton.

Powdered methadone’s intended use is curbing opiate addiction — it’s a synthetic narcotic analgesic that’s used to wean people off drugs like heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl in detox programs. It’s delivered to pharmacies in a powdered form and then mixed with a liquid to control the dose as per a specific person’s need.

It’s never given out in its pure powdered form because “it’s incredibly potent stuff,” Buckley said. That means that unlike prescription painkiller pills, no one could sell their own prescriptions in a powdered form to make some quick cash.

Investigation continues

The drugs couldn’t have originated from inside the jail because all of the methadone used inside to treat inmates is in a liquid form, Ministry of Community Safey and Correctional Services spokesperson Brent Ross told CBC Hamilton. Sources inside the jail say a repeat offender smuggled the drugs in.

Both the ministry and Hamilton police are conducting an investigation into Tykoliz’s death, which may be looked at in concert with two other reported overdose deaths inside the jail since 2012: Louis Unelli on March 16, 2012 and a 38-year-old man on March 25 of this year.

According to police, thieves broke into a pharmacy on Paramount Drive last month and stole 7.5 grams of powdered methadone. Police spokesperson Debbie McGreal-Dinning was adamant that doesn't mean those were the same drugs smuggled into the prison, as detectives have not yet completed their investigation.

“We still have not confirmed the type of drug or drugs in question,” McGreal-Dinning said.

According to a report presented to the police services board last year, robberies targeting businesses and financial institutions increased by 11 per cent in 2012, and “most of these robberies are committed by drug users to satisfy their addictions.”

Searching for answers

Tykoliz’s sister April is also trying to track down information on another drug called Naloxone — an opioid antagonist that acts like an Epipen for a person who is overdosing. When administered, it keeps them alert and breathing — but it also sends them into a harsh withdrawal.

Tykoliz was rushed to hospital for two separate overdoses last week — once on Monday, and again on Tuesday night. Paramedics did not give him the drug on Monday, EMS Manager Carmen D’Angelo told CBC Hamilton. Hamilton Health Sciences public relations official Carly Griffin would not say if Tykoliz was administered Naloxone while in hospital. Officials have given "very specific instructions" not to speak about the incident because of the police investigation, she said.

But that information is important, because it could explain the chain of events that sent the 38-year-old back to prison just a few hours after bring admitted to hospital. “He’d go into immediate withdrawal after being given Naloxone,” Buckley said. There are no formal guidelines that dictate how long a person should be kept in hospital after being administered the drug, Buckley says, but if officials knew he had taken methadone, he “should have been kept there for a day or so,” until the drug was out of his system. Methadone’s half-life can be anywhere from 12-36 hours.

It would be difficult for officials to know for certain what Tykoliz had taken. Toxicity reports from his autopsy should be completed within a month.

Regional coroner Dr. Jack Stanborough said he is considering a combined inquest into all three cases in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre should the individual investigations point to the same cause of death. Crown attorney Steve O’Brien says he is pushing for the inquest to start in the first half of 2015. “It seemed that we should be looking at this a little more broadly,” he said.

A coroner's inquest is mandatory any time an inmate dies an "unnatural death."