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Special meeting held after drug overdoses in prison

By submitted, 09/9/18 8:59 AM

LITTLE ROCK – Legislators convened a special meeting to ask tough questions of prison officials after five inmates died of suspected drug overdoses within a few days.

The cause of their deaths is not official because autopsies have not been completed. However, it is widely believed that K2, a synthetic drug that mimics marijuana, was a factor. Prison systems throughout the country are trying to control the influx of K-2.

For example, in Arkansas prisons a new policy is in effect: mail is photocopied and shown to inmates because letters and correspondence can be laced with K-2.

The new mail policy was implemented after testing done by the state Crime Lab indicated that K2 confiscated at Arkansas prisons was on paper, not tobacco or marijuana. Someone outside prison had sprayed the chemicals on a letter or magazine, which inmates smoked or ate.

K2 is a variation of numerous chemicals and testing is expensive, and it’s challenging to keep up with the changes in its chemical composition. Sometimes a drug test or an autopsy does not point to K2, even though other evidence does.

Visitors to some units are not allowed contact with inmates. Also, prison officials told lawmakers, this year nine employees of the Correction Department have been terminated for trafficking.

The legislature’s Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions subcommittee asked for a report on the suspicious deaths, and prison officials told lawmakers that the number of confiscations of K-2 in 2018 is actually on pace to be 37 percent lower than last year.

Last year prison officials counted 1,136 incidents with K2, such as the drug being discovered and confiscated or an inmate getting sick or dying from an overdose. This year, if the number of incidents holds steady, there will be an estimated 712 incidents.

In addition to enhancing security and inspection measures, prison officials have expanded education programs both for inmates and their visitors, with the purpose of warning them of the dangers of K2.

Some officials would like to have authority to jam cell phone signals on prison property, because cell phones facilitate the delivery of all kinds of contraband.

It is commonly referred to as a synthetic form of marijuana, because of its effect on particular parts of the brain. As a result, drug users tend to use it as they would marijuana, and they fail to appreciate its toxicity. Some of the chemicals that have been discovered in K2 include nail polish remover and bug poison.

The Senate co-chairman of the subcommittee repeated her call for a thorough and independent auditing of prison procedures and policies, saying that the problems are not new.

The recent inmate deaths is notable for the number of men who died within a short period of time, but is part of a trend that is cause for concern among lawmakers. Last year there were 13 inmate deaths attributable to K2 and so far this year there have been six, not counting the recent spate of five deaths.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are among many other states where prison officials are working to solve the problems caused by K2.