Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday released details about six drug overdoses that took place at the county jail within the past week.
Five people ended up in the hospital after an inmate, 25-year-old Sean McDonald, allegedly smuggled in pills laced with fentanyl at the time of his arrest and distributed them to others.
Four of the overdoses were discovered by jail staff late at night on December 31, and another showed symptoms of an overdose in the early morning hours on January 1.
“Because of the great work of our teammates who provided CPR and Narcan, those individuals were saved,” Sheriff Shane Nelson told Central Oregon Daily News on Thursday.
A group of overdoses that large is rare in the jail, but it’s not the first time fentanyl has made an appearance.
Following the incident, 50 counterfeit pills laced with suspected fentanyl were found in the facility.
“We have seen tremendous increases in fentanyl use and it is a very dangerous drug,” Nelson said.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is a “synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine.” Adults can be killed by just three milligrams of a dose of fentanyl.
In the Deschutes County Jail, there were eight recorded overdoses in the year 2022. With one more overdose recorded in the past few days, that makes six overdoses in just the last week.
“Fentanyl users exploded threefold in the past five years on the streets, and of course, that’s going to be directly into the jails,” said Jim Porter, the former City of Bend Police Chief.
Porter said keeping drugs out of jails completely is a major challenge.
“It is impossible for a corrections department to 100% accurately screen everything coming into their jails,” he said. “Even with use of body scanners — these are working body scanners for a jail environment. There’s limited ability and limited scope.”
Fentanyl can be smuggled in through balloons and ingested before entering the jail, making it impossible to detect with police scanners.
“The person either swallows immediately upon or prior to being arrested, which I’ve seen many times throughout my career,” Porter said. “Or they’re going to plan it ahead of time. They’re going to turn themselves in because of a parole or probation warrant or a district string warrant, and they’re able to use those drugs either as bargaining tools or to help themselves slowly come off any kind of addictions they have.”
The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have plans to change current procedures for the inmate search process.
“We have a lot of safeguards in place to detect contraband weapons or drugs before they come into our facility,” Nelson said. “You cannot prevent all of that from happening.”
The Sheriff’s Office told Central Oregon Daily News that all inmates who are entered into their housing facilities must undergo the body scanner process.
It doesn’t just happen in Deschutes County. Between 2001 to 2018, the number of deaths in state prisons due to drugs or alcohol increased by more than 600%. In county jails, it was 200%.
“A small amount of fentanyl can kill,” Nelson said. “The DEA alone seized enough fentanyl to kill every American in the United States last year. It is dangerous…I am very concerned that we are going to end up having an overdose death in our jail because of fentanyl.”
Sean McDonald was pinned with the charges below:
- Unlawful Possession of a Schedule II Controlled Substance
- Unlawful Delivery of a Schedule II Controlled Substance (4 Counts)
- Recklessly Endangering Another (4 Counts)
- Supplying Contraband
The CDC says in 2021 there were more than 107,000 fatal drug overdoses across the U.S., and fentanyl was to blame for more than 75% of those deaths.