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Okla. prison experiences 3 synthetic opioid overdoses in one day

Three inmates at Jess Dunn Correctional Center overdosed on synthetic opioids and were revived by medical staff

By Josh Dulaney
The Oklahoman

TAFT, Okla. — Three inmates at Jess Dunn Correctional Center in Taft overdosed Wednesday on synthetic opioids, but medical first-responders used the anti-overdose drug Narcan to save their lives.

The first incident at the minimum-security prison for men occurred just before 10 p.m. when security staff noticed an inmate in his housing unit was blue in the face and also had an irregular heartbeat and breathing, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Staff began resuscitation efforts, called an ambulance and issued Narcan to the prisoner through an inhaler, which restores breathing after a drug overdose.

Minutes later, staff learned another inmate was unresponsive in another area of the prison, with the same symptoms as the first. Staff also gave the inmate Narcan through an inhaler.

Muskogee County Emergency Medical Services personnel arrived and gave the second inmate a Narcan injection. According to corrections officials, the inmate began to have seizures.

At around 10:15 p.m., a third inmate began having less severe overdose symptoms in the prison’s laundry room. Staff and medical personnel gave him Narcan. A few minutes later, he became responsive, according to corrections officials.

Medics transported the three inmates to an area hospital for assessment and treatment. All were back in the prison Thursday morning.

Citing health privacy laws, the Corrections Department did not release the names of the inmates.

Corrections officials say cellphones are a contributing factor to illicit drugs entering Oklahoma prisons at an alarming rate.

“Cellphones in our prisons are used to coordinate drug introduction into every facility,” state Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said Thursday. “Cellphones, as well as drugs, come into prisons through drops, visitation and even staff members. We do what we can with the resources available, but more must be done before someone dies.”

The Corrections Department has been working with the Federal Communications Commission to allow cellphone signal blocking inside state prisons. Last week, Allbaugh traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with the FCC about using available technology to conduct the signal blocks.

So far in 2018, the Corrections Department has seized 5,914 cellphones. In 2017, the agency confiscated 6,873 cellphones. This year’s cellphone seizures are on track to approach 2016’s total of 9,766 cellphones seized, which was the most since 2011, agency officials said.

Prison officials said to better fight contraband, the agency needs more funding for technology, such as cell sense towers, and better pay to hire more security staff.