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Most Jails and Prisons Are Not Prepared For Opiate Addicts

Jails all across the country are filling up with people who are addicted to opiates. Whether it be heroin or prescription painkillers, opiate addicts who become incarcerated face a very rough time ahead of them. Many jails across our country are not prepared for their inmates to go through opiate withdrawals. Corrections officers are not fully trained in the aspects of opiate withdrawal which could lead to health issues, and possibly even death.

A few years back, Kevin McEvoy was arrested for shoplifting and put in jail. He repeatedly told the officers that he was a heroin addict and that he was going to go through some pretty rough withdrawal symptoms. With the jail had no protocol in place for this particular situation, the guards made notes on their progress of McEvoy. They wrote in his chart that he “was weak, nauseated and “did not look good.” Four days later, McEvoy was found dead in his cell. An autopsy determined that he had died of severe dehydration and kidney failure.

How does something like this happen in this day and age? According to Dr. Charles Ward, “The problem with that particular case was a failure of the system.” Ward is the former jail physician who said he was fired from his job three years ago on an unrelated case.

Most correction facilities use prescription medicines to lessen the withdrawal symptoms and use an 11-item scale to asses withdrawal, wrote the consultant, Jacqueline Moore of Colorado. She was hired by the lawyers of the McElvoy's estate. In this case they not only let McElvoy go cold turkey, they did not medically monitor him what-so-ever.

Correction facilities need to be taught the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. If an inmate openly admits that are going to go though withdrawal, they need to be either separated from the general public or given strict supervision. Along with the physical withdrawals from the drugs, they will be facing extreme mood swings. This could put the inmate in harms way. Suicidal thoughts may lead the inmate to do something they would later regret. It also puts the corrections officers in danger. When you have an inmate who is severely depressed, having mood swings, fits of rage, they may try to hurt another inmate or even a guard.

Opiate withdrawal can be a very traumatic life event. The last place you want to go through withdrawals is in jail. Most do not have the best facilities to do so and they may not be equipped to help you at all.  If you or someone you know has a painkiller or heroin addiction, it's important to get professional treatment right away.  If you or someone you know is going to go through withdrawal, it's important that they have plenty of fluids and food to replenish the body from vomiting and diarrhea to help avoid dehydration.  Detoxing at home and having the freedom to eat, drink, and control the temperature can make withdrawals 100 times better than doing so in a 6x9 prison cell.


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