Two female inmates at the York County Jail were treated for suspected heroin overdoses Thursday and another admitted to snorting some after at least one of the women sneaked the drug into the jail despite having been searched, York County Sheriff William King said Tuesday.

Two of the women were taken to a hospital, although all three have recovered.

About 1:30 p.m. Thursday, a female inmate in the secure unit of the jail in Alfred appeared to have suffered from a heroin overdose. She was found unresponsive in her bunk, and was taken to Southern Maine Medical Center in Sanford and later released, the sheriff’s office said Tuesday.

After the unit was locked down, investigators began interviewing inmates. It was revealed to investigators that the source of the heroin was two inmates who were recently arrested together, one on drug trafficking charges, the other on outstanding warrants. At least one of the inmates hid the heroin in a body cavity, despite being searched during the intake process.

Later, investigators also learned that the suspected heroin was adulterated with fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller.

The two women believed to have smuggled the drugs were removed from the jail’s general population. A cell-by-cell search began, and jail authorities called in a drug-sniffing dog. During this time, all other female inmates were held in the day room.

One inmate being held temporarily there then surrendered a powder she said was heroin, and admitted to snorting the substance.

Later that afternoon, a third female inmate appeared ill and was evaluated by medical staff. She, too, had ingested heroin, and was taken to Southern Maine Health Care and later released.

King said the investigation is continuing, and he anticipates charges of trafficking in prison contraband.

In an interview, King said that it is rare for drugs to make their way into the jail. Two recent jailwide searches turned up nothing, he said.

King is examining changes to intake procedures for female detainees, he said, including ways to isolate them more easily before they enter the general population.

He declined to release the names of the inmates involved, saying charges have not been filed yet.

In York County, heroin use and overdoses continue to be a prime concern among law enforcement. Between 2011 and 2013, 21 people there died of drug-related overdoses, second in the state behind Cumberland County.

In Biddeford, York County’s largest city, the use of Narcan, which safely reverses the effects of an opiate overdose, have risen sharply in recent years. In 2010 Biddeford rescue workers used Narcan on eight people. In 2014, that number rose to 53, and in the first three months of 2015, 20 people had received the drug, on track to outstrip the previous years.

At the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Sheriff Kevin Joyce described a game of cat and mouse between corrections officers and convicts and visitors seeking to introduce contraband of all varieties into the facility.

As inmates find new, creative ways to smuggle in narcotics, officers must clamp down. When outsiders were sending drugs through the mail, such as suboxone, which comes as a thin dissolving strip, jailers began photocopying birthday cards and messages, keeping the originals out of the hands of convicts.

After visitors were identified as likely mules for drugs, the jail switched to no-contact visits, where inmates and their visitors are separated by a thick pane of glass.

Joyce also said his office performs hundreds of urine tests of inmates each month, a “report card” of how effective corrections officers are at stopping the flow of drugs.

In June, out of 244 inmate tests, 12 tested positive for some form of illegal substance.

To check for inmates hiding drugs inside their body, Joyce’s office shuttles prisoners to Windham to be checked by an X-ray body scanner, similar to ones used in airports.

“There isn’t a day that goes by where somebody coming into intake doesn’t have something on them,” Joyce said.

Now, his office is looking for patterns of arrests that may indicate some people are hiding drugs in their bodies and purposely getting arrested so they can sell the drugs at a higher profit.

“The ability to get drugs on the inside or the outside is about the same,” Joyce said. “The only difference is the price.”

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.