British Columbia

B.C. inmate files human rights complaint, says he was denied opioid therapy drug

An advocate who helped Frank Colasimone with his complaint says she has heard from 50 other inmates in B.C. prisons who say they have either been involuntarily taken off suboxone or methadone or are waiting long periods of time to get on it.

'I live in constant fear that my symptoms will return,' says complaint

Frank Colasimone says he was denied suboxone in July at Matsqui Prison. An advocate says even after a transfer to Kent Institution he is still not receiving the medicine which he says helps keep his heroin cravings and anxiety at bay. (CP Photo/Richard Lam)

Frank Colasimone suffers from drug addiction and anxiety. The means he has symptoms like the feeling of bugs on his skin, shakes, insomnia and "a feeling of sounds echoing in my head."

The thought of losing access to suboxone, the medicine prescribed to control those symptoms was so horrifying he says he attempted suicide twice, once by gouging at an artery with a staple.

Colasimone, a federal inmate, says officials at Matsqui Prison in Abbotsford, B.C. have unfairly denied him access to suboxone for three months.

Suboxone, a form of opioid replacement therapy, helps block opiate withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings.

On Thursday, Colasimone filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that Correctional Service Canada is mistreating him.

"I live in constant fear that my symptoms will return, Colasimone wrote in his complaint. "When I ask for the medications that have worked historically, CSC accuses me of being drug-seeking and manipulative."

"Even though I have been shaky and edgy and have barely slept for days, I have been terrified to mention it for fear of having my [anti-anxiety drug] clonazepam dose cut entirely."

Nicole Kief with Prisoners' Legal Services helped Colasimone with his complaint.

Kief said in the last four to five months, her group has heard from 50 other inmates in B.C. prisons who say they have either been involuntarily taken off these drugs or are waiting long periods of time to get on it.

'The opioid crisis exists in prison'

In his complaint, Colasimone alleges he was suddenly cut off from suboxone when a nurse said he was hoarding it while in solitary confinement.

He denies that but admits he has hoarded medicine in the past.

Kief said some inmates do hoard medicine to either keep a supply of a drug, to control their dosing or even to sell to other inmates, but suspicion should not be enough to take it away.

Suboxone is a form of opioid replacement therapy that helps block opiate withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings. (Getty Images)

"Suboxone and methadone are life-saving medication for many, many people. The opioid crisis exists in prison just as it does in the community, in some ways, maybe even worse," she said.

Kief said there is "no fair process" for an inmate to fight these accusations from prison officials.

She said her group tried to work with prison officials to get his medicine back but to no avail. That's why they assisted him in filing the complaint.

CSC says it will review

In response to Colasimone's complaints, a CSC spokesperson wrote the agency will review the case to see if policy was followed in Colasimone's case.

In an email, the spokesperson wrote that involuntary tapering, or reduction, of a suboxone dosage requires "procedural fairness."

"Involuntary tapering is not to be used as a form of discipline and is only to be considered as a last resort in situations of persistent noncompliance with the Methadone/Suboxone Maintenance Treatment Agreement with the offender or where past and/or current behaviour indicate a significant risk of harm to other offenders or staff within [opioid substitution therapy]," the spokesperson wrote.

She said when offenders divert these medicines to someone not prescribed to receive them it can cause harmful effects, including death.

Kief said the next step is to see if the Canadian Human Rights Commission will hear the complaint.

In the meantime, she says Colasimone has been moved to Kent Institution in Agassiz where he is on a variety of medications he has tried, unsuccessfully, in the past.

He continues to suffer "intense" symptoms, she said.