Hamilton police warn about potentially tainted heroin
London Community News
By Matthew Van Dongen and Susan Clairmont
A suspicious death in the Barton Street jail in Hamilton and several drug-related illnesses in 24 hours in that city have prompted a police warning about potentially tainted heroin.
Sergeant Terri-Lynn Collings said homicide detectives are investigating the death of a male inmate, whose name had not been released as of Wednesday afternoon.
The victim's body was found in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre Wednesday morning around 6 a.m. — just hours before correctional officers returned to work after a month-long job action.
Until then, managers had run the jail on rotating lockdown.
Collings said police have not linked the death to heroin, noting an autopsy was pending.
“We're still waiting to see if (the death) is the result of any sort of drug use,” she said.
But police took the unusual step of issuing a public warning after six people in Hamilton — including several in the jail — experienced “severe health problems after taking what they believed to be heroin.”
“We can't say with certainty whether these people overdosed or whether there was something wrong with the drugs,” Collings said. “But given the timeline, over the last 24 hours, we thought it was important to alert the community.”
Regan Anderson, executive director of Wayside House, a men's withdrawal management and treatment centre in Hamilton, said he would be alerting clients to the police warning about what may be a tainted batch of heroin in the city.
Anderson said the number of clients presenting with heroin addictions has double or tripled since March, when the highly addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin ceased production in Canada.
Addiction experts at the time predicted users would turn to other opioids such as heroin. While OxyContin is a prescription pill that is easily recognizable to users, Anderson said heroin is a nondescript white powder that is “cut” with any number of other ingredients.
Correctional Services ministry spokesperson Brent Ross confirmed three inmates in the same unit “required medical attention” Wednesday. He wouldn't say anything else about the inmate death, citing the ongoing police investigation.
The deceased man shared a cell on the fifth floor with another offender, according to a veteran corrections officer who did not want his name used for fear of management reprisals. The cellmate was also taken to hospital in medical distress, he said.
Often when cellmates experience medical issues at the same time, the cause is drug-related, he added. He wondered if lax security at the jail during the month-long job action allowed for more narcotics to be smuggled in. “When the cat's away, the mice will play.”
Ross wouldn't address the officer's allegations, citing the police investigation.
The facility had been run by managers for 27 days as a result of a work refusal by 200 corrections officers that spurred full and rotating jail lockdowns. The dispute began after an electrical outlet cover went missing inside the jail.
Corrections officers refused to work after some weren't allowed to wear protective vests during a search, even after the Ministry of Labour found the job action was not justified under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The dispute was settled Tuesday in a negotiated settlement that gave officers more leeway to wear protective vests, but also allowed for punitive action against employees who refused to work.
The back-to-work agreement called for a tactical squad to don Kevlar vests and other protective equipment to do a full search of the facility. Local union president Stephen Smith said the search will take days. “Just the fact that the (jail) hasn't been searched properly in four weeks, the level of contraband is probably astronomical,” he said.
- Hamilton Spectator