News Release: Human Rights of Federal Prisoners with Opioid Use Disorder Being Violated, Says Prison Justice Group
June 4, 2018 – Burnaby BC
Today, the West Coast Prison Justice Society (WCPJS) filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Correctional Service Canada on behalf of all federal prisoners who have been denied life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder.
Prisoners’ Legal Services (a project of WCPJS) spoke with approximately 75 Canadian prisoners suffering from opioid use disorder, many of whom reported waitlists for opioid substitution therapy of many months to over one year. WCPJS is concerned that prisoners are at great risk of fatal overdose, and HIV and hepatitis C infection because of barriers to treatment with Suboxone or methadone, as well as a lack of adequate harm reduction initiatives and psychosocial therapy.
Other prisoners reported having been cut off Suboxone or methadone, some cold-turkey, and suffering painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, on the basis of unproven speculation that they were trying to share medication with other prisoners. Some reported being cut off medication without an opportunity to speak with their doctors first.
The complaint asserts that these practices discriminate against prisoners who suffer from addiction, which is considered a disability under human rights law, as well as against Indigenous and Black prisoners who are disproportionately affected.
The complaint cites research that shows psychosocial therapy adds to the effectiveness of medication, and that many prisoners have histories of trauma.
“Providing treatment for opioid use disorder helps prisoners to heal, rehabilitate and become productive, law abiding members of the community,” said Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.
“Correctional Service of Canada has an opportunity to provide essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in society when they come into prison. It is disheartening that CSC is failing to do so at a time when an estimated 4,000 people died of fentanyl overdose in Canada last year”, she said.