Marion County Jail sees significant increase in ODs behind bars

Marion County Jail. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In the Marion County Jail, officials are dealing with overdoses behind bars.

The jail commander said it is almost a daily problem.

Suspects are bringing the drugs in a variety of ways — before they’re pulled over, some take the drugs to hide evidence. Some swallow bags of drugs before turning themselves in, and others will hide them in their body cavities.

“I was on crack for a lot of years, so I know about addiction,” William McKeller said.

McKeller is one of the fortunate ones who beat addiction. He’s been clean for 10 years.

“I got tired of living like that. I knew better, but I hit from hard times. I took a rough role,” he said.

That’s not the case with many others. The Marion County Jail Commander, Lt. Col. James Martin, said they’ve seen a significant increase in the number of overdoses.

“We are dedicating a lot of resources, a lot of man power, a lot of extra training. We’re going through more doses of naloxone to try to deal with this,” said Martin.

Naloxone is an opioid-overdose antidote, often delivered through a device called Narcan.

Since July 1, deputies administered 27 doses of naloxone. There have been a number of suspected overdose cases. But, they’re not certain of exactly how many.

“We’re having to give you Narcan in case you are overdosing. Are you truly having a heart attack? Are you truly having shortness of breath? Is it because of asthma? Or are you overdosing on us?” Martin asked.

What is known is that on Aug. 10, an inmate was sent to Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital for an elevated heart rate. He died. An autopsy revealed several bags with what is believed to be crack cocaine in his stomach.

Just weeks later, another inmate was rushed to the hospital for what appeared to be a heart attack. He lived. After searching his cellblock, authorities discovered 9 grams of heroin and three strips of Suboxone — it can treat pain as well as addiction to narcotic pain relievers — in another inmate’s body cavity. It was the largest drug seize in the jail’s history.

“Nine grams would be enough to where if you introduce that into our population, you can be dealing with 15-20 overdoses,” Martin said.

Overdoses that McKeller was fortunate enough to dodge.

“I would suppprt anything that would stop the tug of drugs and the tug of violence,” McKeller said.

Jail officials are contemplating the purchase of a body scanner. Scanners can sometimes detect drugs hidden in body cavities, or drugs that were swallowed. According to Martin, a scanner can cost between $120,000 and 200,000. Martin said it’s too early to tell how it would be funded, but the jail is looking to the state for assistance.