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Suspected drug overdoses send 2 more Barton jail inmates to hospital

Suspected drug overdoses sent two more inmates from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre to hospital on Saturday, the day after one inmate died and another was also sent to hospital, both with apparent drug overdoses.

2 inmates taken to hospital the day after another inmate died

Four suspected drug overdoses between Friday and Saturday left one inmate dead and sent three others to hospital. (Jeff Green/CBC)

Suspected drug overdoses sent two more inmates from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre to hospital on Saturday, the day after one inmate died and another was also sent to hospital.

Hamilton EMS got a call at 2:12 p.m. on Saturday about a man in his late 20s showing signs of a suspected drug overdose, said EMS operations commander Ian Wright. They transported him to hospital. 

Shortly afterward, at 2:27 p.m., EMS got a call about a man in his 30s also with a suspected drug overdose, whom they also took to hospital. Both men were conscious and in serious but stable condition, Wright said.

Paramedics got a third call around 6 p.m., and returned to the jail to pick up one of the same men who'd been taken to hospital earlier that day. He was in serious condition at that point, Wright said.

All three calls were for suspected drug overdoses. Wright said he didn't know what drug. 

Brent Ross, spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, confirmed two inmates were "found in medical distress" and sent to hospital Saturday.

"Given these matters are under police and Ministry investigation, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment," Ross said.

Weekend events under investigation

Hamilton Police spokesman Const. Stephen Welton said police went to the hospital around 7:45 p.m. to speak with inmates "after requests to police were made." 

"The details and specifics of those matters reported to police are currently under investigation," Welton said. "To respect the individuals' privacy, and the integrity of the investigation, no further details will be provided by police at this time."

There have now been several deaths inside the jail in recent years, and many have been linked to drug overdoses. A coroner's inquest was called in late August to examine drug use in the jail.

If the coroner determines that the death Friday wasn't from natural causes, there will be a mandatory inquest. If it was from natural causes, it will be at the coroner's discretion whether there is an inquest.

No information has yet been put forward to confirm that the latest death was a drug overdose.

The inquest will probe the deaths of William Acheson, Martin Tykoliz, Stephen Conrad Neeson, David Michael Gillian and Louis Angelo Unelli, who all died in drug-related incidents inside the jail from 2012 to 2015.

'Something internally, inside the offender'

The suspected overdoses Friday and Saturday underscore a need for more staff and detection equipment, said Monte Vieselmeyer, the corrections division chair for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

He said the Barton centre needs a full body scanner to detect contraband, "something internally, inside the offender," he said. There is one being deployed at the Toronto South Detention Centre as a pilot project.

Vieselmeyer said weekend sentences — where offenders are able to work their jobs during the week and just check into jail on weekends — lead to situations where full-time inmates put pressure on weekenders to bring them contraband. 

"That creates issues for us," Vieselmeyer said.

He said the Barton jail staffing is down about 15 full-time officers and about 20 officers in the backfill pool due to a hiring freeze. 

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

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