Seven female inmates at the Fayette County Jail were treated for suspected heroin overdoses overnight Monday, initiating an investigation into the possible smuggling of drugs into the facility.
At approximately 12:15 a.m., the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office contacted EMS personnel to respond to the jail for a female inmate who was suffering from an overdose, said Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. Prior to the arrival of EMS, jail deputies administered naloxone to the inmate. Naloxone, sold under the brand name of Narcan, is a medication that blocks or reverses the effects of opioids.
Over the next hour, six more female inmates within the same housing unit all experienced signs of overdose. All seven were transported from the jail to Fayette County Memorial Hospital for treatment. Their conditions did not appear to be life-threatening, according to Stanforth.
All of the inmates treated at the hospital were later released and returned to the county jail.
“We believe that one person brought in the drugs by hiding them in their body cavity and at their time of choice, decided to use it and share it with the others in the housing unit,” said Stanforth. “One female went down and while she was being treated, another female started exhibiting signs. And then we found that others were exhibiting signs of consumption. We suspect it was heroin, but that’s not confirmed. Although this has been a reoccurring problem with individuals sneaking drugs in their body cavities, we’ve never had this many overdoses at one time.”
Sheriff’s detectives are conducting an investigation into the suspected overdoses. The K-9 from the Washington C.H. Police Department was also taking part in the investigation Monday by searching the housing units. There were approximately 10 women inside the housing unit at the time of the incident, according to Stanforth.
The names of the seven women will not be released until the investigation is complete.
“No one has been charged yet and it’s an ongoing investigation,” said Stanforth. “We will talk to the prosecutor and figure out our next move. Or the prosecutor can choose to take it to a grand jury and let the grand jury handle it. Conveying drugs into a correctional facility would be the first logical charge if that’s where the evidence leads us. And corrupting another with drugs is a potential charge. It will become clearer once we conduct our investigation.”
Determining whether or not an incoming inmate has drugs hidden inside a body cavity is a difficult proposition, according to Stanforth.
“If we suspect that someone has drugs on them and we don’t get consent from that person, then we try to get a search warrant and once that is secured, we take them out and get a CAT scan and try to locate the contraband with the CAT scan. This month, we’ve probably done three or four of them,” said Stanforth. “But we need to have probable cause to do the search. If someone comes into the jail and presents themselves as just a person coming off the street with no indication that they’re trying to conceal anything, there isn’t much we can do. We may know that that person is a drug user or we may even suspect that the person has brought drugs into the jail before. But that’s not enough to get a search warrant. We have to be able to articulate to a judge why we believe a person is hiding something inside their body.”
The recently-purchased body scanner (see in article below) coming to the Fayette County Jail should drastically curtail the amount of drugs coming into the jail, according to Stanforth. The body scanner, which uses low-level X-rays, will be installed into a newly-constructed room on the southern side of the jail.
“The body scanner will help tremendously,” said Stanforth. “I don’t care if it’s a knife or if it’s heroin. This scanner is going to show the contraband that is being brought in. Everyone going into the jail population will go through the body scanner. If it shows something, that will start the process of getting a search warrant. Every sheriff’s office I’ve talked to that has one of these is very satisfied with it.”
Stanforth said his goal is to have the body scanner operational by May 1.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica