Cal­i­for­nia in­mate lawyers want more use of life-sav­ing drug

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION -

SACRA­MENTO, Calif. (AP) — A pair of sus­pected fa­tal over­doses on the na­tion’s largest death row this week is ad­ding ur­gency to an ef­fort to al­low Cal­i­for­nia prison guards and even in­mates to carry a drug that can save the lives of those who over­dose on opi­oids.

At­tor­neys made the re­quest ear­lier this year to state cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials and the fed­eral re­ceiver who con­trols prison med­i­cal care un­der a long-run­ning law­suit, Steven Fama of the non­profit Prison Law Of­fice said Thurs­day.

Forty Cal­i­for­nia in­mates died of drug over­doses last year, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Thurs­day in ad­vance of their pub­li­ca­tion. That’s dou­ble the num­ber of drug-re­lated deaths in 2014 and 2015, and the death toll con­tin­ues to rise “at a very sig­nif­i­cant rate,” ac­cord­ing to an an­nual death re­view for the re­ceiver’s of­fice. Cal­i­for­nia’s long-term drug over­dose rate is more than three times the na­tion­wide prison rate.

“Ac­tion needs to be taken,” Fama said, call­ing the over­doses “a pub­lic health cri­sis.”

He and the death re­view re­port both said prisons are re­flect­ing the na­tion’s opi­oid abuse epi­demic.

Prison nurses be­gan car­ry­ing the over­dose-re­vers­ing drug nalox­one in 2016. It can re­verse res­pi­ra­tory fail­ures from opi­oid over­doses.

It is rou­tinely ad­min­is­tered when any in­mate is found un­con­scious, no mat­ter the cause, be­cause there are no ad­verse side-ef­fects, said Liz Gransee, a spokes­woman for the fed­eral re­ceiver. She and cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials could not im­me­di­ately com­ment on the re­quest to ex­pand its avail­abil­ity.

Any­one can now eas­ily ob­tain nalox­one at a drug store af­ter un­der­go­ing brief train­ing in how to ad­min­is­ter the in­haler, Fama said, so he said even in­mates should be trained in its use.

Au­top­sies are set Fri­day for Joseph Perez Jr. and Her­minio Serna, who died while await­ing ex­e­cu­tion at San Quentin State Prison north of San Fran­cisco. But the Marin County coro­ner’s of­fice said tox­i­col­ogy re­sults could take weeks.

In the mean­time, prison of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing how con­tra­band may have been brought into death row and are in­creas­ing ed­u­ca­tion to in­mates on the dan­gers of abus­ing il­licit drugs.

Serna, 53, was one of three men sen­tenced to death for killings com­mit­ted dur­ing ef­forts by the Nues­tra Fa­milia gang to take over the drug trade in San Jose. Perez, 47, was sen­tenced to death for the 1998 killing of a woman who was stabbed and stran­gled dur­ing a rob­bery of her home in sub­ur­ban Lafayette.

Aside from drugs, of­fi­cials are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing how an in­mate on the highly se­cure death row ob­tained the weapon used to kill 30-year-old Jonathan Fa­jardo in Oc­to­ber.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials have spent mil­lions of dol­lars sys­tem-wide, with limited suc­cess, to stem the smug­gling of con­tra­band by in­mates, visi­tors and em­ploy­ees. They blamed smug­gled Fen­tanyl for killing one in­mate and sick­en­ing 11 oth­ers at an­other North­ern Cal­i­for­nia prison in April.

“It’s ob­vi­ously ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to stop be­cause you’re talk­ing about grains of Fen­tanyl that can be lethal,” Fama said.

Prison of­fi­cials blamed “acute drug tox­i­c­ity” for the deaths of con­demned in­mates Emilio Ava­los in Novem­ber 2017 and Joe Henry Ab­bott in Jan­uary. They are the most re­cent since over­doses were blamed for killing two con­demned in­mates in 2005.

Cor­rec­tions de­part­ment spokes­woman Terry Thorn­ton said prison of­fi­cials rely on coro­ners to de­ter­mine the cause of death.

Cal­i­for­nia has not ex­e­cuted any­one since 2006. Since 1978, when Cal­i­for­nia re­in­stated cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, 79 con­demned in­mates have died from nat­u­ral causes. An­other 25 have killed them­selves and 15 have been ex­e­cuted.

Of­fi­cials said two con­demned mul­ti­ple mur­der­ers ap­par­ently com­mit­ted sui­cide within hours of each other last month, but the of­fi­cial cause of their deaths also is await­ing au­topsy re­sults.

AP Photo/ErIc rIs­bErg

In this 2016 file photo, a con­demned in­mate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif.

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