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Prison advocacy groups concerned over number of overdoses in Missouri Corrections facilities

Prison advocacy groups concerned over number of overdoses in Missouri Corrections facilities

PACIFIC, Mo. (KMOV) – We’re learning more about an ongoing drug problem inside prisons across Missouri. Last month, we told you about a new Missouri Department of Corrections initiative to stop drugs from getting into facilities. Advocacy groups argue those steps aren’t working.

Now, DOC leaders said they’re actively tackling the drug issue by using body scanners, searches and drug dogs checking visitors and staff. However, last week, corrections officers inside one Missouri prison in Pacific said they saw 19 overdoses in a 24-hour period. That’s more than September’s monthly average of 46 inmate overdoses in all facilities.

“The fentanyl is in there, and we know people are overdosing on the streets, so you know people are overdosing in there,” Eric Harris said.

Harris, St. Louis native and former inmate, said he sees things from the other side now. For years, Harris has been working alongside current inmates. He said fentanyl inside prison walls is an epidemic.

“The people who are in charge, they have a responsibility to stop it from coming in,” Harris explained.

Harris, The Missouri Corrections Officers Association, and Missouri Prison Reform said staff isn’t doing that and is actually bringing drugs into facilities.

“The drugs are getting in there. There’s no vetting process for employees,” Tim Cutt said.

Cutt’s the executive director of the Missouri corrections officers union.

“They found fentanyl on the worksite somewhere, and two staff were exposed and it took Narcan to bring them back,” Cutt explained.

Late last week, Cutt said several of his officers inside Missouri Eastern Correctional Center reported they saw 19 fentanyl overdoses in 24 hours.

“It’s something we hear a lot about from family members. It’s something we hear about from the incarcerated population also, but the amount, 19 in 24 hours, is extremely concerning for us,” Lori Curry said.

Curry’s with the Missouri Prison Reform, which advocates for inmates and their families. For months now, they’ve tracked inmate overdoses and said they believe Missouri DOC is downplaying the number of overdoses happening in Missouri prisons. Cutt and the union said they agree.

“Just flat-out lying. I mean, the public needs to know what’s going on inside those prisons,” Cutt added.

In a statement sent to News 4 by Missouri DOC, a spokesperson said:

“No, there absolutely were not 19 overdoses recently at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, certainly not 19 overdoses in 24 hours. I don’t know who your source is, but that claim is false.”

Cutt said he has no reason to believe his corrections officers were lying, but said DOC could be.

“I don’t know why they’d say it didn’t happen. I couldn’t even speculate on that. It’s a shame, it’s sad they’d say it didn’t happen,” Cutt added.

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