Drug Overdose in Prison?

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Drug Overdose

It is difficult to imagine a person dying of a drug overdose while incarcerated but it does happen.  It was recently reported that two prison inmates at Alaska’s Lemon Creek Correctional Facility were treated for drug overdoses. Both men were hospitalized. In a separate incident, troopers report that an inmate tried to smuggle illegal contraband into the facility. The goods were seized and the issue is being investigated. It would appear that obtaining illegal contraband while behind bars such as prescription painkillers, cocaine, heroin and even cell phones is easier than one would think.

In a 2009 case in Florida, investigators cracked the case of wellness education officer, Richard Pillajo, who tried to smuggle illegal and prescription drugs valued at $2500 to inmates in the Florida prison system. Investigators were commended for bringing Pillajo to justice but it seems as if the issue is more widespread. 44 inmates in the California prison system died of drug overdoses between 2006 and 2008 and approximately 5000 contraband cell phones were confiscated. Even Federal prisons are not exempt from the possibility of drug overdoses.

If dying from a drug overdose while imprisoned in a state or federal correctional facility is hard to image, it is probably even harder to fathom the ability of inmates to gain access to cell phones.   Yet a surprising number of prisoners manage to communicate with their Twitter followers and keep their Facebook pages updated. Worse, illegal cell phones are also used to coordinate narcotics deals and other illegal activities.

Prison officials give convicts high scores for creativity. It seems that prisoners with a strong enough desire for illegal contrabandcan  come up with some ingenious smuggling methods. Narcotics and other illegal contraband are often passed during visiting hours. Despite rigid security measures, friends and family members can often be counted upon to make illicit deliveries sometimes in the guise of a steamy embrace or a hearty handshake.

Of course, having a few friends on the inside also helps. Many convicts are able to score drugs and other illegal paraphernalia by colluding with corrupt prison employees who are more than willing to supplement their incomes by assisting inmates with their recreational drug needs. A prison worker in Augusta, Georgia was able to supply prisoners with cell phones for more than a month before being caught. She admitted to making as much as $700 for each successful transaction.

Some of the measures correction agencies have taken to stem the flow of illegal drugs and cell phones in our prisons have been successful; others not so much. Most prisons subject visitors and sometimes staff to rigid search procedures including metal detectors. In some prisons, canine teams have proved to be effective at sniffing out marijuana. Pennsylvania, a state which has seen a significant decrease in the number of positive drug tests has implemented a number of different measures.

Prison officials there have seen success with the use of X-ray machines and canine teams. They have also implemented more rigorous search procedures for inmates as well as staff.  Drug testing occurs with more frequency and the consequences for violators are not only articulated, they are strenuously enforced. Other efforts to decrease inmate drug use involve treatment programming. All of these efforts, including education about the risk of drug overdose, would appear to decrease the number of drug overdoses in our prisons

Unfortunately, the need is greater than the available resources and many inmates are forced to wait months before receiving services. To compound the problem, many who receive treatment and supervision while behind bars are then  released into the community where that same level of oversight is non-existent. Regrettably, these inmates are subject to relapse once out on their own. In the meantime, as hard as it is to believe, prison inmates in the U.S. are actually dying from overdoses. Until state and federal prison officials are able to effectively combat the problem, inmates continue to be at risk of dying from a drug overdose.

By Constance Spruill


USA Today

Washington Times

Juneau Empire

The Fix

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