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Six Deschutes County Jail inmates survive apparent fentanyl overdoses; inmate charged; sheriff points to M. 110

(Update: Adding video, Sheriff Shane Nelson comments)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Quick action by Deschutes County Jail corrections deputies helped six inmates survive suspected opioid overdoses, and one was charged with bringing counterfeit fentanyl pills into the facility, the sheriff's office said Thursday.

But Sheriff Shane Nelson said he fears their actions some day won't be enough.

"My biggest fear right now is that we will have an overdose death in our facility," Nelson told NewsChannel 21.

Around 10:45 p.m. last Saturday, Dec. 31, corrections deputies were alerted to an emergency medical issue at the jail, Sergeant Jason Wall said. Bend Fire and Rescue paramedics were quickly dispatched to the jail for a reported of a possible opioid overdose involving two inmates.

Corrections deputies immediately began life-saving measures, including administering Narcan (a brand of Naloxone), performing CPR and employing an AED, Wall said. 

During the life-saving measures, it was determined two other inmates were experiencing medical complications similar to the first two, and they were evaluated and treated. One inmate was administered Narcan.

Nelson said, "If it wouldn't have been for the quick response of our sheriff's office teammates, those individuals could have died."

In a coordinated effort between the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division, Corrections Division and Bend Fire/Paramedics, all four inmates were transported to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend for treatment.

The drugs were not detected during booking and processing. The sheriff said they were hidden in a body cavity.

"It is not uncommon for drugs to enter a correctional facility," Nelson said. "In this case, fentanyl was brought into the jail. We take several steps to try to prevent that from happening, but it can still happen."

Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses/reduces the effects of an opioid overdose. Narcan was administered in the form of a nasal spray during this incident. All patrol deputies carry Narcan, and it is strategically placed inside the adult jail to be readily available for its use on either inmates or corrections deputies in the event of an exposure.

Around 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, it was determined a fifth inmate was exhibiting signs and symptoms of a possible opioid overdose. That inmate was treated and ultimately transported to St. Charles Bend.

"Due to the immediate action of the corrections deputies, and extensive training they receive in being able to identify the signs/symptoms of a possible opioid overdose and appropriately respond, all five inmates survived," Wall said in a news release.

As a result of the preliminary investigation, it was determined a a 25-year-old inmate, a Bend resident, was successful in secreting fentanyl-laced pills on their person and introduced them into the jail, where they were then distributed to other inmates housed in the same dormitory.

Searches were conducted and are currently ongoing throughout the facility, Wall said, resulting in the seizure of about 50 counterfeit pills laced with suspected fentanyl.

All inmates were treated and released from St. Charles Bend and returned to the jail.

The inmate who allegedly brought the pills into the jail after his Dec. 31 arrest by Bend police was one of the five (six in four days) who overdosed. He now faces four counts each of drug delivery and recklessly endangering another, along with charges of drug possession and supplying contraband, Wall said.

District Attorney Steve Gunnels said Thursday he has not yet received the sheriff's office reports, as their investigation continues. "We will review charges as soon as we receive those reports," he told NewsChannel 21.

During 2022, Wall said, there were a total of six incidents in which Narcan was administered to Deschutes County Jail inmates as a result of a suspected opioid overdose. In five of those cases, the inmates were administered Narcan and eventually taken to St. Charles Bend, treated and returned to the jail. One incident did not require hospitalization.

Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, there have been six inmates who experienced suspected opioid overdoses, four of whom were administered Narcan by corrections deputies. All six inmates survived.

By comparison, during 2021, there were four incidents where Narcan was administered to inmates as a result of suspected opioid overdose.

Nelson hopes steps they're taking to prevent further overdoses will work, but he believes the problem has intensified since voter passage of Measure 110, which decriminalized small amounts of some drugs -- and in the sheriff's view was a mistake.

"The problem is, in order to help individuals seek treatment, sometimes it takes a consequence," Nelson said. "So to decriminalize drugs and not have a consequence after a certain number of times they are caught with these lower levels of controlled substances is a mistake -- and we've got to change that."

The jail regularly trains staff on how to treat overdoses. We were on hand Thursday as officers were learning in an emergency medical response class how to administer Narcan, perform CPR and use an AED (automated external defibrilator.)

And officers know the fentanyl threat goes well beyond the jail walls.

Sheriff's Captain William Bailey said last year, patrol deputies administered Narcan on 17 incidents involving suspected opiod overdoses.

"What we're seeing is it's taking multiple doses of Narcan to get people breathing again, so we can hand them off to paramedics and advanced medical care," Bailey said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. A 3-milligram dose of fentanyl — a few grains of the substance — is enough to kill an average adult male. The availability of illicit fentanyl in Oregon has caused a dramatic increase in overdose deaths throughout the state.

Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that there were more than 107,000 fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the previous year. Synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) accounted for more than three-quarters of those deaths. Numbers from 2022 are not yet available.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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