Fentanyl leaking into NYC prisons, inmates overdosing at record pace

New York City jails and prisons are seeing a massive increase in fentanyl overdoses in 2023 even though corrections officials have stepped up efforts to prevent it from being smuggled in which is happening more and more frequently using a myriad of methods, especially the mail.

(Video Credit: Eyewitness News ABC7NY)

Following a corrections officer being rushed to the hospital after being exposed to fentanyl while sorting mail for inmates four months ago, almost 150 inmates are suspected of having overdosed on the drug. They were treated with Narcan which counteracts the effects of opioids between January and April. The penal system in New York City is on a trajectory that could see more than 400 overdoses in a year for the first time in history, according to a Correctional Health Services report.

Much of the drug is being smuggled in via mail according to the Department of Corrections. Inmates are receiving drug-soaked cards, letters, and even books with the drug in them. Inmates tear off the pages to smoke or ingest the drug.

The number of overdoses is on track to have roughly doubled in number from 2020 when Narcan was administered to 220 inmates. In 2021, suspected overdoses topped 347, and in 2022 they reportedly hit 325.

The Department of Corrections has trained nearly 5,000 staffers to use Narcan. Commissioner Louis Molina told the New York Post that the department has trained dogs to sniff out fentanyl as well, which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The deadly drug was responsible for 71,450 deaths nationwide last year, according to the CDC.

Sadly, the trend in New York City is one seen across the nation. In northern Washington State, seven inmates were hospitalized after experiencing what officials described as “a medical emergency” while incarcerated at a jail in Snohomish County. According to the sheriff’s office, it is believed they overdosed on fentanyl.

The sheriff’s office, which is leading a criminal investigation into the incident, confirmed that all of the inmates who were hospitalized had since been discharged and have returned to the Snohomish County Jail. They were lucky to have survived.

(Video Credit: KING 5 Seattle)

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortnoy commented that detectives believe an inmate brought fentanyl into the jail and had identified a possible suspect. Authorities referred two charges for a 37-year-old inmate for possession of a controlled substance inside a correctional facility. The inmate was booked on three theft warrants, according to the sheriff.

The fire department was called to the jail after deputies observed unusual behavior in one of the inmates which appeared to be consistent with symptoms of an overdose caused by fentanyl, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. The inmate was swaying back and forth and falling against a wall, CBS affiliate KIRO-TV reported. Six other inmates then began to display the same behavior the sheriff noted. All seven received Narcan and were conscious during their transport to Providence Regional Medical Center.

“The quick action from the corrections deputies to observe one inmate displaying off behavior, followed by a second and third, certainly saved the lives of these seven inmates tonight,” said Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe in a statement.

Corrections deputies started carrying Narcan on duty this year in Snohomish County.

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