By JESSE PAUL, The Colorado Sun
DENVER (AP) — Prison employees had no thought what was occurring when an inmate abruptly misplaced consciousness on the Limon Correctional Facility in May.
It turned out the person was overdosing from fentanyl that had been snuck into the power on the Eastern Plains. The drug is an opioid mentioned to be 50 occasions stronger than heroin and 100 occasions stronger than morphine.
The inmate’s overdose was deadly, and an officer who responded to assist him was uncovered to the fentanyl and have become extraordinarily in poor health. The officer was given Narcan, an opioid-overdose reversal treatment.
“We are so, so thankful that the officer survived,” mentioned Sherrie Daigle, the state DOC inspector common, whose workplace is tasked with investigating crimes inside the state’s jail system and protecting medicine out of its amenities. “It could have been just as bad as the offender.”
The Limon case, which got here earlier than the arrests of 5 jail employees accused of smuggling medicine into the power, was one of no less than three deadly drug overdoses inside a Colorado jail previously 13 months. The deaths underscore what the CDOC says is a scourge of narcotics flowing into the state’s amenities, together with ultra-potent, hard-to-detect artificial medicine that may be absorbed into paper and mailed to inmates.
“We have found more drugs in the past two, two and a half years than they have in the history of the Inspector General’s Office,” Daigle mentioned.
Data from the Department of Corrections reveals a steep improve within the quantity of medicine seized in state prisons over the previous 4 years.
In the primary six months of this yr, as an example, the company seized greater than 400 grams of cocaine. In 2018, the company seized 48.4 grams of the drug.
In the primary six months of 2021, greater than 3 times the quantity of heroin was seized than in all of 2018. Methamphetamine, suboxone and prescription drug seizures, in the meantime, had been set to exceed their 2018, 2019 and 2020 ranges.
The quantity of medicine seized within the first six months of this yr represents tens of hundreds of potential doses, in keeping with jail officers.
Daigle mentioned it’s tough to inform if her workplace is getting higher at discovering contraband medicine smuggled into state jail or whether or not extra are discovering their method into amenities.
“Honestly,” she mentioned, “I don’t know. I wish I could answer that question.”
— How the medicine are getting in
The Colorado Department of Corrections takes a quantity of steps to cease medicine from coming into the state’s prisons, together with routine urine testing of inmates, monitoring cellphone calls and screening all mail.
But there are gaps within the system that inmates have discovered and exploited.
Daigle mentioned prisoners have been instructing their members of the family to purchase a particular type of paper with excessive cotton content material after which spray it with an oil containing artificial cannabinoids, colloquially often called “spice.” The oil is colorless and odorless and may’t be detected in the course of the mail-screening course of.
Each piece of paper can include as many as 96 doses of the drug, which may promote for as a lot as $40 every inside jail. Inmates insert a paperclip or a staple into a lightweight socket or electrical outlet to create a spark and smoke the drug-laden paper.
“The problem is they don’t know what kind of dose they’re getting on that paper,” Daigle mentioned. “They don’t know how much has been sprayed on there. Even the people that sprayed it on there don’t know what the dose is. So it’s extremely, extremely dangerous when the offender inhales this. They have severe reactions. And we have recently had an offender die from a spice overdose.”
Recently, jail officers have begun photocopying all incoming inmate mail to fight the contraband by stopping inmates from acquiring the unique paperwork.
“The problem is we cannot photocopy legal mail,” Daigle mentioned. “And so now they are trying to beat us by sending in false legal mail.”
The CDOC can also be asking the state legislature to assist them deal with the issue.
The company is asking lawmakers for $300,000 subsequent fiscal yr, which begins in July, to determine a Okay-9 drug detection unit that might consist of 4 groups, every with a canine and a handler. The value would lower to $200,000 within the 2023-24 fiscal yr.
State jail officers say the Okay-9 unit would permit them to rapidly display mail and inmate cells.
“By having the K-9, we shouldn’t have to go in and rifle through every single piece of paper or go through all of their property because the dog will let us know if there’s anything that we need to search harder for,” Daigle mentioned.
State price range writers appear open to the request. “It’s hugely problematic,” mentioned state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat who serves as vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee.
But Moreno needs to see extra knowledge from the Department of Corrections on which amenities have had the most important downside with contraband medicine.
There are additionally considerations that 4 canine for the state’s sprawling jail system wouldn’t be ample.
“I tried to be reasonable in my request to the legislature,” Daigle mentioned. “I think that four dogs will give us a good starting point. I would like to have some data behind us to back up putting in a request for more dogs. Ultimately, it would be wonderful to have a dog at each facility.”
The CDOC by no means decided how the fentanyl that killed the inmate in Limon obtained into the jail.
“We did not make an arrest in that case,” Daigle mentioned. “We did not determine how the drugs got into that facility. We believe it was through staff.”
Five employees members had been charged within the following months with smuggling medicine into the power — although not associated to the overdose. (The Lincoln County coroner didn’t present the title of the inmate who died from the overdose, however confirmed the dying.)
Daigle mentioned her workplace most likely costs a jail employee no less than as soon as a month with bringing medicine right into a facility. (The CDOC employs about 6,000.) People visiting inmates are charged at about the identical charge, “if not once a week.”
The different two Colorado jail overdose deaths previously 13 months occurred in Fremont County. One was Nov. 30, 2020, on the Colorado Territorial Prison, whereas the opposite was on the Colorado State Penitentiary on July 16.
The inmate who died July 16 died of a “spice” overdose, Daigle mentioned.
The Fremont County Coroner’s Office didn’t reply to a request for info on the inmates who died from overdoses, together with their names.
Daigle sees expanded efforts to maintain medicine out of prisons as a difficulty that impacts not solely the state’s inmate inhabitants, but in addition the broader neighborhood.
Prisoners’ members of the family might be collateral harm when their family members behind bars develop into indebted to sellers.
“Keeping the drugs out of prison not only helps what’s going on inside, it’s also very important for the family members who are being extorted and who are sometimes threatened by drug dealers from the outside,” she mentioned. “So the more we can keep the drugs out of prison, it’ll help everyone in the community.”
— Jails are coping with the difficulty, too
Prisons aren’t alone in coping with an obvious uptick in issues with contraband medicine. Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, who’s the president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, mentioned jails are in the identical boat.
“I can’t speak for every sheriff’s office and every jail in the state of Colorado, but I think I can speak generally in saying that the trends that the Department of Corrections is experiencing are very much mirrored in the county jails,” he mentioned. “Just in the last couple of months we had what we believe were several fentanyl exposures in our facility to the point where we had five Narcan deployments in a two-day window to people who were exhibiting overdose traits.”
In Arapahoe County, a jail inmate was just lately charged with drug distribution and bringing contraband into the jail after handing a counterfeit tablet containing fentanyl to a cellmate who overdosed and died in June. Ernest Mares introduced eight or 9 little blue tablets into the jail by hiding them inside his shoe, in keeping with courtroom paperwork.
Reams mentioned he additionally has had two inmates die of methamphetamine overdoses in his amenities.
Reams mentioned he has introduced on drug-sniffing canine to work in his amenities and began making newly arrived inmates undergo physique scanners. “We’ve tried to think of everything under the sun” to stop the medicine entering into the power, he mentioned.
The amount of illicit medicine stopped earlier than coming into his jail or present in his amenities has “gone up exponentially in the last, I would say, three to four years.” At first, it was marijuana, however now it’s transitioned to cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, suboxone “and everything in between.”
“I think the easier and the smaller those drugs get in dosage size and the more addictive that those drugs are also becoming — it’s a huge motivator for those who are addicted to the drugs or who want to profit from distributing the drugs,” Reams mentioned. “I don’t think you can call overdoses in jails an anomaly anymore.”
But Reams mentioned he isn’t essentially shocked. In reality, he says, “it only makes sense,” on condition that about 80% of the inmates in his jail are “involved in some kind of illegal narcotics trade or illegal drug trade.”
The CDOC believes that about 70% of its inmates enter state prisons already hooked on medicine. Prisoners are supplied therapy and counseling.
“Prisons are a microcosm of society,” Daigle mentioned. “And really what it comes down to is the challenges we see on the outside are the same challenges we run into on the inside.”
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