As the drug crisis swells, deaths behind overdose bars have increased

Anisa Holland should be overwhelmed her son is coming home from prison after a long four years in prison. Instead, he is researching rehabilitation centers to send him out as soon as he gets out of the gate.

He doesn’t know the man who’s coming home – the man who said he was taking every drug he could get his hands on inside the Alabama prison system. He heard it in a 34-year-old voice when he called her on the prison phone.

His son is one of about 20,000 inmates at an Alabama prison that the U.S. Department of Justice has called inhumane. In two investigations, it was found that widespread drug use leads to sexual abuse and “serious” violence in state prisons. The department has sued Alabama, alleging that its prison conditions violate the civil rights of detainees. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections’ own report, about 60 pounds of illegal drugs were confiscated from his prison in the first three months of this year.

Even if Alabama’s prisons and jails are plagued by drugs, death, and violence in particular, their problems are not unique to the US.

From 2009 to 2019, the death rate from alcohol and drug overdoses in prisons increased fivefold, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center – a wave that exceeded the national drug overdose rate, which tripled in the same period.

As the opioid crisis devastates America, overdose deaths are occurring in every corner of the country, including prisons and jails. Criminal justice experts advise that using legal measures instead of community-based addiction treatment to combat drug use has not reduced drug use or overdose for decades. Instead, so-called safe facilities have increased drug mortality behind bars.

According to the Pew report, this increase is due to the criminalization of cannabis in many parts of the country and the overall decline in the number of people arrested for drug offenses.

“This certainly points to the need for alternative solutions that help those who rely less heavily on the criminal justice system to fight substance abuse disorders,” said Tracy Velazquez, senior manager of security and justice at the Pew Charitable Trust.

For decades, drug use in America has been dealt with primarily through punitive measures – 1 in 5 people behind bars for drug crimes. Drug crimes were behind 30% of new admissions to Alabama prisons in March. Nationally, they were the leading cause of arrest, and about 90% of the arrests were in possession of drugs, not sold or manufactured, according to Pew research. The researchers also found that less than 8% of those arrested with drug dependence received treatment while in prison.

Velazquez said that people with mental health problems encourage the use of lots of drugs by trying self-medication. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 40% of inmates and 44% of inmates have a history of mental illness.

Holland said her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and PTSD six years ago after battling drug use since adolescence. The boy, who asked not to be named for fear that his remarks could jeopardize his release from prison or subsequent parole, led to a schizophrenic episode in 2017 that led him to break into a house during a hurricane. He said he didn’t realize people were home after he ate a sandwich, found a coke in the fridge, and looked for dry clothes. They called the police. He has been sent to jail on charges of robbery.

“They don’t put mental health patients where they should be; They put them in jail, ”Holland said.

Not only was she frustrated by her son’s lack of medical care and treatment, but she was terrified of drug access and abuse that she said her son suffered from the crowded, low-staff Alabama prison system.

She told KHN she had been raped and beaten because of her drug debt and had been put on the suicide watch more than a dozen times. He said he returned to prison using heroin, meth and the synthetic drug Flacca.

“We really need to focus on not assuming that putting someone in jail or prison will stop them from using drugs,” Velazquez said. “We really need to provide treatments that not only address the chemical, substance use disorder, but also solve some of the underlying problems.”

Beth Shelburn, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, recorded 19 drug-related deaths in Alabama prisons in 2021, the most she has seen since she began tracking them in 2018.

He said the numbers were just a snapshot of what’s going on inside Alabama’s prisons. The judiciary has found that the state correctional department has failed to properly report deaths in its favor.

“A lot of people who are dying, I would argue, are not in prison,” Shelburn said. “There’s so much hatred in all of this that we’re punishing drug addicts in this ‘corrective facility’, when we’re really throwing them in the drug den.”

The Department of Corrections report reveals at least seven overdose deaths in 2021, with three officers classified as natural deaths. It reported 97 deaths in the first three months of this year that have not yet been fully classified.

Although the Republican government recently announced more than 500,000 in grants for a program to help inmates tackle drug use disorders, the number of graduates of drug treatment programs in the state’s prison system has fallen to record lows over the past decade. About 3% of prisoners completed a treatment program in 2021, down from 14% in 2009.

In contrast, California reported a 60% reduction in overdose deaths in its prisons by 2020, with state officials blaming the introduction of substance use treatment programs and the widespread availability of drug-assisted therapy.

The Alabama system is developing a drug-assisted treatment plan with its health contractor, said Kelly Bates, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Prior to 2019, drugs that controlled drug cravings or muted altitude were given only to those who could distinguish them from the general prison population, according to Deborah Crook, deputy commissioner of health services at the department.

“Science has changed considerably and there are more drug alternatives that are safer to prescribe – even among the general public,” he wrote in a statement.

Although prison officials have long accused visitors of bringing in drugs, the ban on inspections during the epidemic has not reduced drug use inside. Multiple officers were arrested in Alabama last year and charged with bringing drugs to prisons and jails, and the Justice Department’s 2019 report found dozens of officers arrested in the previous two years on drug trafficking and other misconduct charges.

Bates wrote in an email that illicit drugs are “a challenge facing corrective measures across the country.” “ADOC is committed to enforcing our zero-tolerance policy on sanctions and working extremely hard to eliminate them from our benefits.”

Bates did not specify how these principles were applied Citing the case with the judiciary, the department declined to answer a detailed list of questions about drug use and overdose in its prison.

Holland doesn’t know what will happen if his son leaves. She said she hopes to be able to resume her business as an electrician and support her family. But four years of his so-called rehabilitation have been a nightmare for both of them.

“They were released in a state of disarray, trauma and deeply ineffective. What would you do with someone who has gone through all of this? “Holland Dr.” It’s not rehabilitation. It’s not. “

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