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8 overdoses confirmed at Western Regional Jail in past month

By COURTNEY HESSLER

The Herald-Dispatch

BARBOURSVILLE – More details surrounding an influx of overdoses at Western Regional Jail have been released by the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority.

Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, had confirmed Wednesday three inmates who had been long-term residents of the jail needed outside medical attention after suffering overdoses, but have since returned to the facility.

He said Thursday he could not release specific details about the incidents due to an ongoing investigation and medical privacy laws.

The overdoses come just weeks after five long-term residents of the jail overdosed on heroin the last week of April. Messina previously confirmed three inmate overdoses, but clarified three inmates had been taken to the hospital and two did not require outside medical assistance. All women have since recovered and returned to the facility.

Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said the drugs responsible for those five overdoses came from a female arrestee who had hidden 15 grams of heroin deep in a body cavity.

Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia and former Maryland police officer, previously said overdoses in the correctional system are not unique to West Virginia. Burke said he believes prisons and jails are not the right institutions to deal with drug addictions, but a lot of the issues could be addressed by more funding and hiring more employees.

Messina also provided statistics on the use of naloxone among inmates at WRJ. Statistics from the contracted medical service show eight individuals were administered the overdose-reversing drug. From July 29, 2016, to Feb. 23, 2017, three doses were given while en route to the jail, four occurred in booking within 24 hours of being arrested, and one occurred within 48 hours of booking.

As of the end of last week in all 10 regional jails across the state, 224 out of 4,769 inmates were on the 10-day detox protocol because of their conditions when they were admitted to the jail.

Western Regional Jail generally houses inmates charged in Cabell, Lincoln, Wayne, Mason and Putnam counties. The Barboursville facility opened in 2003 with a maximum capacity of 520 inmates.

The correctional system has used a combination of drug treatment and strict visitation and mail policies to help combat drugs sneaking into the system.

Burke warned addicts were not the only people who sneak drugs into the system. The drugs can be used as a source of barter.

As of March 24, the prison system had nine Residential Substance Abuse Treatment programs offering six-month to one-year inpatient treatment. A male and female RSAT unit opened last year for inmates at the Southwestern Regional Jail in Logan, West Virginia, but no rehabilitation beds are located at Western Regional Jail, although inmates could be transported on a judge’s order.

In total, the program offers 551 treatment beds with a program completion rate of 61 percent.

Any person looking for help with substance abuse, including inmates, can contact the state hotline for guidance 24 hours a day at 844-435-7498 or visit www.help4wv.com.

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