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Deschutes Co. Jail adds tool to stop heroin overdoses


Inside five new medical kits, staff at the Deschutes County Jail now have access to medicine they hope will help them battle heroin overdoses.

“Here’s your medication,” jail nurse Leslie Horner said Thursday, holding up a shot of Narcan. “It screws in, and you’re ready to go.”

The next step is a squirt in the nose.

Jail Capt. Deron McMaster said he hopes it will help his staff with what he says is a growing problem on the High Desert and across the nation:

“Heroin use is becoming more popular,” he said.

McMaster said deputies rarely book suspects who do not have drug or alcohol issues.

And often an arrest can only escalate the problems.

“They know they’re going to get arrested, and there’s a good chance they’re going to use all their drugs, because they don’t want us to confiscate them,” Horner said.

It’s a big part of the reason the jail has put together medical kits containing Narcan, a popular medication that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids –essentially stopping an overdose.

“It enables the patient to start breathing,” Horner said.

Horner and others recently finished training jail staff to properly use the drug. Deputies will be a critical part of the program, because only five nurses split the 24/7 coverage of the jail.

In these emergencies, every second counts.

“A person could die from a heroin overdose before medics arrive,” McMaster said.

Adding Narcan is one of many recent efforts to improve healthcare in the jail. Earlier this summer, the sheriff’s office purchased several watches with the ability to monitor inmates’ vital signs and issue alerts if someone is in distress.

The department also asked the county for an additional nearly $300,000 to hire three more nurses — positions the jail is still trying to fill.

“It’s been more difficult to find qualified nurses than what I thought,” McMaster said. “I just don’t see nurses saying, as they’re entering nursing school, ‘I’m going to go work in a jail.'”

The efforts to improve jail safety and healthcare all come in the wake of a controversial inmate death. Currently, the Oregon Department of Justice is investigating the jail after Edwin Mays III died of a methamphetamine overdose in a holding cell last December.

McMaster told NewsChannel 21 that Narcan would not have saved him.

“It does not help anyone under the influence of methamphetamine,” McMaster said.

Still, they hope the drug can help prevent future tragedies.

“If we can save one life, it’s worth it,” McMaster said.

Each dose of Narcan costs about $100. The jail currently has 10 doses in five kits. Three kits are kept in the jail, one is in a work center and another goes out with inmate work crews.

McMaster said the sheriff’s office eventually hopes to have Narcan in the hands of every deputy.

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