Multiple overdoses at Sarnia Jail send inmates and officers to hospital

Emergency officials responded to multiple overdoses at the Sarnia Jail on Friday, which sent six people to hospital.

Responders arrived at the jail on North Christina Street on Friday at about 5 p.m., and found three inmates and one correction officer "exposed to and contaminated with an opioid," a spokesperson for Sarnia Fire Rescue Services said in a news release. 

Jail staff had already been "working" on those affected when firefighters arrived, the release read.

Sarnia fire officials did emergency decontamination on patients before sending them to hospital. Fire officials also initiated a hazmat team to perform a full disinfection of the area. 

As a result, a total of three inmates and three correction officers were taken to hospital. 

Officials told CBC News on Sunday that inmates and staff have since been discharged.

'Normal responses don't work'

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said he wasn't surprised when he heard about the overdoses.

"This is the first incident of this nature with the Sarnia Fire Services being involved with a hazmat unit, but the opiate crisis is very wide in this community, as it is in every other community across this province and across this country."

Canadian Press

Bradley said he'd like to see the province do more to address the situation. Just a month ago, he said, Lambton County Council asked Ontario to declare the opioid situation in the province a crisis. 

"Normal responses don't work," he said.

"Everyone really needs to up their game including at the municipal level and the provincial level and the federal level to make a concerted effort to try to decrease — not going to end it — but to decrease and mitigate the impact of this crisis on our communities."

The ministry said crime, violence, mental health and addictions are issues that "cannot be solved overnight or by the provincial government alone."

"This is a community-wide issue and Ontario is committed to working with community partners," the statement reads.

Newer drugs are deadlier drugs

Joel Bissonnette, president for OPSEU Local 128, which represents all staff members at the Sarnia Jail, said he hopes this incident is "a wake-up call."

He said drugs being brought into the jail have always been an issue, but that what's becoming more serious is the kinds of drugs being brought in, like fentanyl and carfentanil.

"Those definitely are much more deadlier and dangerous than drugs we've seen in the past."

He said the union would like to see additional tools and supports put in place to help catch these drugs from entering the jail.

He said even a small amount of exposure could be dangerous, and explained that guards could be exposed to the drugs just by simply performing first aid on an overdosing inmate or by physically transporting them. 

The ministry adds it recognizes how difficult the job of a correctional staff is, and that it's committed to supporting correctional staff "by giving them the resources they need to keep themselves safe and ensure appropriate custody of those in our correctional system"