Former prisoner says he has not received help from addiction despite repeatedly asking for treatment



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Rob MacDonald poses outside a clinic where he is receiving addiction treatment in Halifax on March 15, 2019.

DARREN CALABRESE / The Canadian Press

Memories of vomiting, diarrhea and relentless stomach pain as he withdrew from opiates in prison have made Rob MacDonald repeatedly ask for addiction treatment before leaving a maximum security facility, but despite dozens of formal complaints, he says he could not get help .

"I was thinking," Wow, I can not believe I'm going out on the street with this addiction, "MacDonald said recently, a week after being released under the supervision of the Atlantic Institution in Renous, NB, its fourth installation in more than a decade behind bars.

MacDonald, 41, said he feared his 15-year opiate addiction would lead him back to crime while using illegal drugs outside, so he tried desperately to get treatment from the federal penitentiary service.

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"I put 150 requests, probably 70 claims, for a period of 15 months, trying to tell them:" Put me on this. I need this before I leave. I want to ask for help, I do not want to go back to the community in a high risk situation, I do not want to offend again, "he said in Halifax, where he lives in a recovery home.

He said he complained to the director and appealed to the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada. One of his complaints to the commissioner was confirmed, but he said he was put on a waiting list because there was a limit on the number of inmates receiving treatment.

When he was imprisoned at the Kent Institution in British Columbia between 2017 and 2019 for drug and robbery offenses, MacDonald said that debilitating withdrawal symptoms led him to look for potentially lethal drugs that were smuggled into the prison.

"At least eight guys died in the 17, 18 months I was in Kent," he said.

The Correctional Service linked MacDonald to a clinic in Halifax after his release nearly two weeks ago and now he is prescribed the opioid substitute Suboxone. But he said he should have received the medication in jail as part of the agency's treatment program, which also includes methadone, so he could focus on finding a construction job to get his life back on track.

Ivan Zinger, Canada's ombudsman for violators, said the Correctional Service did not provide treatment, programs and adequate staff for dependents at a time when more drugs are contaminated with fentanyl.

"I think when you're dealing with a large prison population that has such a long history of substance abuse, you should provide much more treatment and programming than opiate replacement therapy," said Zinger, who asked for reallocation of funding to provide these services.

"It is not clear to me why the budget remained the same and declined in the past when clearly the number of incidents is increasing," he said of the overdoses that caused 41 deaths between 2010 and 2018.

Zinger said programs such as counseling are provided shortly before offenders are released rather than during the entire incarceration period.

"This is a problem when you have a highly addicted prey population that has a lot of time on your hands and is in difficult conditions of confinement. They will find ways to bring drugs.

The Correctional Service said in a statement that 66% more prisoners had accessed treatment in the past two years, but a 115% jump was recorded in the Pacific region where the opioid crisis is most acute.

He did not respond to requests for information on whether his budget will be increased to meet the demand for further treatment.

Kent Elson, an attorney for a felony at the Joyceville Institution in Kingston, Ontario, said the Correctional Service did not accommodate the deficiency of his client's addiction, so he filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission last November.

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Elson said his 50-year-old client, serving a four-year sentence, was using methadone but claims the medication was suspended without explanation for five days when he was transferred from another facility in November 2017.

"He needed medical help and was forced to withdraw from there, into a segregation cell stained with feces and the cruel mistreatment of the guards. And it was so unbearable that he tried to kill himself three times, "said Elson in Toronto.

Although Correctional Service guidelines state that a physician is required to interview offenders before they are involuntarily tapered or cut from methadone or Suboxone, Elson said that his client was not seen by a physician.

"This whole experience was incredibly traumatic and he ended up with PTSD," he said.

"The impact on him was terrible, but everyone wins if the prisoners receive the correct treatment. Suffering from PTSD will not facilitate your integration into society. "

The Correctional Service did not respond to a request for comment on the human rights complaint filed by Elson or another of the Prisoners Legal Services. The B.C. The group's complaint was filed in June 2018 on behalf of the offenders who accused the Correctional Service of discriminating against them.

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Nicole Kief, a group advocate, said about 100 inmates reported three major concerns: lengthy waiting lists for treatment, Suboxone being cut after false accusations of diverting her and not receiving addiction counseling.

"Of the people I talked to, there was a real sense of urgency, with people calling me and saying," I'm worried about death, "she said.

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