Inmates overdosing, dying from fentanyl use in Edmonton Remand Centre

Alberta Justice confirms three inmates have died from drug overdoses in the Edmonton Remand Centre since May and 23 others have been given naloxone after overdosing.

‘Naloxone distributed like candy,’ source says

There have been 23 overdoses and three inmate deaths at the Edmonton Remand Centre between Jan. 27 and Sept. 27 of this year. (CBC)

The Edmonton Remand Centre is overwhelmed by fentanyl use by inmates and the number of overdoses continues to rise, according to CBC sources.

Between Jan. 27 and Sept. 27 this year, Alberta Health Services confirms 23 inmates were given naloxone at the Edmonton Remand Centre to save them from suspected opioid overdoses.

Naloxone is used as an antidote, blocking the effects of opioids, especially in overdoses. 
A cell in the Edmonton Remand Centre. (CBC)

However, three inmates are believed to have died from drug overdoses.

In May, a 24-year-old inmate died of a suspected fentanyl overdose. 

On Sept. 1, a 31-year-old inmate died after taking drugs and four days later, a 43-year-old inmate was rushed to hospital after overdosing.

On Facebook, his wife wrote, "I'm all alone. My man's in the hospital. I know he'll get better. I'll be strong for us."

Her husband died in hospital on Sept. 9.  

CBC News has learned the identities of the dead inmates, but is not naming them to respect their families' privacy.  

How are the drugs getting in?

An Alberta government spokesperson said security measures are taken to identify and stop drugs from entering facilities, including the use of drug dogs, searches and intelligence gathering.  

In an email, the spokesperson wrote: "We won't be able to provide anyone for an interview due to security precautions — which include not giving examples or ideas to people who may be inclined to attempt to bring in drugs."

Mike Ryan works with inmates at the Edmonton Remand Centre with addictions to help get them into treatment facilities. (CBC)

Former addict and mentor Mike Ryan has been working with inmates struggling with addictions. Over the past year he's helped 89 men get access to treatment.  

Ryan has some ideas about how fentanyl is getting into the remand centre.

"Guys get charged with minor charges to get themselves into the remand," he said. "That could be one of the ways it's coming in."

Ryan said the traffickers often smuggle packages "by stuffing them where the sun doesn't shine.

"It wouldn't be anything new. It's been done many times," he added with a laugh. 

Inmates worried

The 63-year-old former cocaine addict says inmates have told him overdose numbers are way up.

"A lot of the inmates I've worked with to get into treatment have said there's way too many overdoses in there.

"A lot of them stay away from it because they know they're going to die if they take it. But there's lots of guys who don't give a crap about what they do.

"They just want to escape mentally from what's going on. And many of them will end up dead if we don't do something about it."

Education campaign

The provincial government says it works with Alberta Health Services to display posters in inmate areas advising prisoners of the dangers of fentanyl use. They also make videos available.  

But based on the numbers, it appears the education campaign is having a limited effect.

A source told CBC News, "Naloxone is distributed like candy.  And at least five of those were actually dead and then revived.

"Staff are burning out saving lives on a regular basis." 

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston