Inmate overdoses symptomatic of worsening problem for jails, staff

Tennessee's Opioid Crisis

Monday morning, six female inmates at the Sumner County Jail in Gallatin showed signs of respiratory distress from suspected overdose.

The six inmates were transported to local hospitals.

While the drug of choice is not yet known, a member of the medical staff at the jail administered the opioid-reversal drug Narcan to at least one of the women in an effort to save her life.

These days, there’s a push to have Narcan on hand for jail staff. The Sumner County Jail started keeping Narcan within the last year.

It’s a new reality for jails, as they try to keep inmates alive.

Down the road in Nashville, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall says jails have long struggled with inmate overdoses.

“People will ingest something or may shoot something up before they’re arrested,” said Sheriff Hall. “That actually kicks in some 45 minutes to an hour later once they get to booking.”

But as the opioid crisis rages on, the problem has worsened.

“With the opioid problem and drugs like fentanyl, where you really don’t know the intensity of the drug, it’s a far greater risk for the individual,” Hall said. “We can’t take anything lightly. Someone who may nod off in the booking room in the old days, you may think they’re just falling asleep. Today we treat that as an overdose and we’re getting them to the hospital.”

The increase in overdose risk means a higher cost to taxpayers.

Nashville spends between $350,000 and $400,000 per year transporting inmates from jails to hospitals. Most of those ambulance rides are overdose-related.

Sheriff Hall says the danger to inmates and jail staff will persist as the national addiction problem worsens.

“We’ve got to find a way to educate the public and the community, and try our best to get people off the drug permanently, not just for a one night deal.”

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