Think prison forces an end to drug addiction? Think again

18 per cent of Canada's federal prison population are in jail because of drug-related offences. But that number is only a hint at all the ways drug crime, addiction and trade intersect behind prison walls in Canada.

There is huge incentive for prisoners to find ways to get drugs into jails

During his sentence, Ross developed an opioid addiction. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Listen to the full episode42:37

When Robert John Charles Ross was sent to prison in 1999, it wasn't for drugs. It was for a double homicide. But when you dig a little deeper, you learn that drugs were a big reason he wound up behind bars.

Ross says that at the time of the crime, he had been on a seven-day cocaine bender and had grown increasingly paranoid. He says that in his altered state he decided to kill his partner in drug trafficking, Garth Brayshaw, whom he accused of abusing women.

Ross had to acknowledge the bitter irony that he did not escape drug trafficking, or even his own addiction, in prison. 

But when he arrived at Brayshaw's home, Ross found Brayshaw in bed with a young woman, Crystal Leanne Ruschiensky. Ross had expected to find Brayshaw alone and he had no issues with Ruchiensky, but he decided he couldn't leave a witness.

"I didn't know anything about her. I was in a fog, telling myself I was doing the right thing and shot them both," he recalled.

The correctional system is the nexus of drug crime, traffic and addiction. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Ross's drug binge continued for several days before he was finally picked up by police. He was sentenced on two counts of second degree murder, with 17 years before a chance at parole.

Once he was in jail, his drug problems only worsened.

Drugs act as currency and there's a market for everything from cigarettes to steroids.

Despite his problems, Ross's wife stood by him. He had earned weekend visits with his family in a house on institution property. But during one of these visits, about six years into his sentence, he sneaked meth and paraphernalia in with him and found a moment alone to get high. His wife happened upon him, and that's when things changed.  

"When her and the kids walked out, she stopped at the gate and turned around and looked at me and she had tears in her eyes and it was only then that I realized that that was it," he said.

That was the last time Ross saw his family. His addiction eventually moved to opioids, which he is now managing with suboxone.

An uphill battle

Ross's story is typical of the people who enter prison with a substance abuse problem, as On Drugs host Geoff Turner learned while researching this week's episode.

Despite their best efforts, corrections officials are fighting an uphill battle against the flow of drugs. Because of the huge demand, there is huge incentive for prisoners to find ways to get drugs into the jails.

Drugs act as a currency and there's a market for everything from cigarettes to steroids.

One security intelligence officer described attempts with drones, drug packed tennis balls, and slingshots to get contraband into the facility.

(Rafferty Baker/CBC)

On a visit to the Mission Institution in B.C., one of the security intelligence officers showed a typical seizure: A large Ziploc bag.

It contained tobacco and rolling papers, 10 grams of heroin, Lyrica capsules along with some methamphetamine. All told, it was worth $12,000 behind the walls.

Despite their best efforts, the drugs do make it into jail.

Ross had to acknowledge the bitter irony that he did not escape drug trafficking, or even his own addiction, in prison. He just moved on to a different drug and a different part of the supply chain.