Missouri state prison officials are working to stem the flow of contraband after multiple drug overdoses, including a few that were deadly.
The Missouri Department of Corrections began tracking after inmates began overdosing in administrative segregation, which is one of the most secure and isolated parts of the prison. Over the next nine months, there were 146 drug overdoses spread throughout the state prison system, with multiple drugs to blame, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Three inmates died from opioids, including Nicholas Pickett. The 25-year-old had cocaine in his system, but an autopsy blamed his May 2017 death at the Moberly Correctional Center on the painkiller fentanyl.
Pickett’s father, Chris Pickett, said there needs to be better surveillance and higher standards for prison employees, whom, he says, don’t undergo the same searches as visitors. While it’s unclear where the drugs came from that killed his son, he cited the case of a corrections officer in Moberly who was arrested three months prior for having 40 capsules of heroin and other drugs. AP News reported.
“My son died, and he shouldn’t have died,” said Pickett, whose son was five years into a 14-year sentence for robbery and possession of a controlled substance. The autopsy found track marks between his son’s toes and on his left arm. Surveillance video also showed suspicious activity around his cell before he was found unresponsive inside.
Missouri state prison spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said overdoses are a priority issue for director Anne Precythe. In May, when the department began tracking them, Precythe called for more thorough contraband searches. The corrections department also is re-evaluating procedures designed to prevent staff from smuggling narcotics.
Pojmann said opioids are particularly problematic. Some have tried to hide the drugs in the glue flaps of envelopes and under stamps. Food visits for offenders with good behavior have been temporarily suspended because visitors were trying to smuggle drugs in that way, a clampdown that has hit offender morale.
“There is a big problem with opioids because they are available in such small and potent dosages,” Pojmann said. “We have to be vigilant and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. It’s a challenge.”