Calif. prison officials investigating spike in drug ODs during 10-day span

CDCR didn't say how many ODs were recorded, but a memo distributed March 30 said there were 19 as of that date

By Nate Gartrell
Bay Area News Group

SOLEDAD, Calif. — Officials at Salinas Valley State Prison are investigating a spike in drug overdoses during a 10-day period in late March, as well as a recent fatality believed to be related.

From March 19 to 29, the prison’s Facility A saw an “increased number of drug-related overdoses,” and four days later, an incarcerated man died from a suspected drug overdose. A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation wouldn’t say how many overdoses were recorded, citing an open investigation, but an internal memo distributed March 30 says there were 19 as of that date.

The overdoses appear to be part of a nationwide trend that has seen a dramatic increase in drug overdoses among incarcerated people since 2001. One study that examined a 17-year period ending in 2018 showed a 600 percent increase. CDCR’s internal data says overdose deaths reached a 5-year high in 2019 but dropped to their lowest point in 2020, when the department restricted visits and tried to limit contact between staff an inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 30, Salinas Valley prison officials distributed a memo to Facility A inmates announcing they would be confined to their cells, would stop receiving packages or snack purchasing privileges, wouldn’t receive phone time, and would be chained and escorted whenever outside their cells. A copy of the memo obtained by this newspaper says visitation would continue as usual, and that the restrictions would be in place while corrections officers conducted an investigation, including cell searches.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for CDCR, said the department uses “visual inspections, clothed body searches, visual unclothed body searches, hand-held metal detectors, walk-through metal detectors, walk-through x-ray scanners, audio and video surveillance devices, and canine units” to restrict the flow of contraband in its prisons.

“While no approach is 100 percent effective, this multilayered approach does prevent the introduction of a large amount of drugs and contraband into the institutions,” she said in an email.

Salinas Valley State Prison operates a program known as ISUDT, for Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment, to reduce drug addiction. The program was implemented in 2020, Thornton said.

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