AHS eyes expanding opioid treatments in Edmonton remand after inmate’s death

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Warning: this story references suicide. If you need help, the AHS Mental Health Help Line can be reached at 1-877-303-2642. The Canada Suicide Prevention Service can be contacted at 1-833-456-4566.

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Alberta Health Services (AHS) says it is considering expanding opioid addiction services in an Edmonton jail more than a year after an inmate died following pleas for Suboxone treatment.

Postmedia revealed last week that Timothy McConnell, a 23-year-old inmate who died by suicide in the Edmonton Remand Center last year, had sent repeated requests to AHS staff for opioid agonist treatment.

“Please let me start my Suboxone treatment,” McConnell wrote in a request 10 days before his Jan. 11, 2021, death. “I won’t abuse the privilege.”

“This is an extremely unfortunate incident,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email after the Postmedia’s story ran. “Our deepest sympathies are with the family.”

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Williamson said AHS could not discuss specifics about McConnell’s death “out of respect for patient confidentiality and privacy reasons.”

However, he said AHS’s Correctional Health Services branch started more than 2,700 patients on opioid agonist treatments last year, aimed at “preparing patients for safe release to the community.”

McConnell worried he would overdose on the outside

McConnell, who was wait-listed for the treatment just days before his death, expressed concerns he would overdose and die after his release.

With room for 1,952 inmates, the Edmonton remand is the largest correctional facility in Canada. Williamson said that due to the facility’s size, AHS is “currently investigating options to expand treatment availability.”

Opioid agonist treatments use drugs such as methadone and Suboxone to prevent withdrawal symptoms in opioid users. The Center for Addiction and Mental Health says the treatments can help people with opioid addictions “stabilize their lives and … reduce the harms related to their drug use.”

McConnell was in the remand awaiting trial on charges of shop breaking and theft over $5,000. He had been accused of stealing airsoft guns from a shop in Grande Prairie.

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