As the country is seized by the heroin-opioid epidemic, many grappling with addiction end up in local jails, where the facilities serve as de facto detox centers.
Almost two-thirds of sentenced inmates in jail from 2007 to 2009 met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, with one out of five during that same time period reporting regular use of heroin or opiates, according to a 2017 Justice Department report.
More than 2 million Americans are estimated to be dependent on or abusing prescription pain relievers or street drugs.
As a high number of those with addictions flood local jails, facilities such as the jails in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are tasked with safely managing the symptoms of inmates who begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms shortly after they’re booked, whether it’s caused by alcohol, opiates or other drugs.
Typically, when an inmate is exhibiting severe symptoms of withdrawal — such as intense dehydration, hallucinations, or seizures — they are sent to a nearby hospital to be treated until they have stabilized. If they are stable enough to be kept in the jail, the medical staff gives the inmate a cocktail of medications to keep symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating at bay.
Workers from the Lafourche Parish jail estimate they see about 60 to 70 inmates experiencing withdrawal symptoms during any given month and about 10 percent of them are sent to the hospital. Terrebonne Parish Jail Medical Administrator Petey Neal said the number of inmates who are sent to the hospital for withdrawal symptoms varies by month, but estimates about five to 10 inmates will experience severe symptoms a month.
Although Neal said the Terrebonne Parish jail handles most inmates who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms in-house, they are sent to the hospital if anyone suspects they may enter critical condition.
“We can’t take that chance,” Neal said. “Our philosophy here is when in doubt, send them out.”
″(They) have to stay away from the drug addicts, the alcoholic and the dealers and the bars and the casinos,” Scott said. “Basically, you have to change everything related to your use. Then they do very, very well.”