Sarnia police have charged an inmate after five people were taken to hospital on Friday for exposure to an opioid drug.

The 30-year-old Sarnia man has been charged with possession of a Schedule I substance for the purpose of trafficking.

Investigators say he was found to be in possession of a suspected opioid-based substance.

On Friday, three inmates were transported to hospital for treatment along with two guards who may have also been suffering symptoms due to exposure to a drug believed to be fentanyl inside the jail.

The suspect was being held in custody.

Opioid exposure concerns

In the wake of the incident, questions are being raised about the possible dangers of secondary exposure to opioids.

But those who work to help addicts worry about unwarranted, possibly hurtful, stigma.

On Saturday, Joel Bissonnette, president of OPSEU Local 128, said two of the guards were taken to hospital as a precaution after a possible exposure to opioids.

Those reacting on Facebook to our story about that event had their own concerns about the safety of helping someone who has overdosed.

Dr. Alex Summers, associate Medical Officer of Health for the Elgin-Middlesex Health Unit says those concerns aren’t warranted, "Call 911, administer naloxone. You are not at risk of an overdose because you go and help somebody."

Summers worries misinformation could prevent people from taking life-saving steps.

"Certainly I would emphasize to people in the public, in our community, if you see somebody who needs help you can be confident that you can go and help them."

Staff members at the temporary safe consumption site in London have heard others express fears about touching or accidentally inhaling opioids.

Sonja Burke is Director of the Counterpoint Harm Reduction Services safe consumption site on King Street.

"I think it's important to understand that to overdose, you have to ingest and inject the substance directly."

Burke says she's never heard of a confirmed instance of overdose from secondary exposure to opioids. That includes staff at safe consumption sites and emergency responders.

"We currently have, to date, reversed 114 overdoses. We've had no staff concerns; no medical response that has affected the staff in any way."