Five Alaska inmates overdose in 24 hours; DOC credits recovery to anti-OD drug

Five inmates overdosed at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River over a 24-hour period, from Monday night to Tuesday night, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections.

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All five women are expected to survive. Officials credit a rapid response administering the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. DOC said responding paramedics used Narcan to revive the first woman who overdosed, and DOC staff administered the drug to reverse the four subsequent overdoses.

DOC spokesperson Megan Edge said corrections staff have been getting more training and Narcan kits to deal with overdoses after Gov. Bill Walker declared a state opioid disaster in February.

Edge said while drug overdoses occur from time to time in state correctional facilities, a cluster of five in a single day is uncommon.

“The reality is, we are in the middle of an opioid epidemic, and prisons aren’t immune to that,” Edge said.

DOC’s Professional Conduct Unit is investigating questions like how the drugs got into a state-run correctional facility, Edge said. The department is still looking into what type of opioid the inmates had used, she said, and the department not saying yet what they suspect.

Despite efforts to stop drugs getting into prisons and jails, they make it in, so Edge said correctional officers and nurses at the facilities are trained on what to do to save prisoners from an overdose.

“And so they’re constantly looking for more tools and resources that they can use in those situations, I mean, DOC is the largest substance abuse treatment provider in the state, and so that means we need the tools and resources to do it,” Edge said.

That includes distributing emergency kits that have doses of Narcan at correctional centers and probation offices around the state. Edge says the kits were installed as a result of policy measures that kicked in after Walker’s formal disaster declaration.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.