Los Angeles County Fire Department officials have transported at least a half-dozen inmates from facilities at Pitchess Detention Center this week for suspected overdoses, several of which Sheriff Alex Villanueva hailed as a success for his “Naloxone Custody Pilot Project” on social media.
A Sheriff’s Department investigation is still seeking to determine what the drugs were that the inmates overdosed on, as well as how the drugs were brought into the maximum-security facility.
Fire officials received multiple calls Wednesday, one at 5:10 p.m. regarding an incident at the South Facility, and a separate incident in the North County Correctional Facility, about a half-hour later.
The first call at 5:10 p.m. Wednesday involved the transportation of a male patient from the South Facility.
“It was for a medical emergency … the inmate was in the yard and began to stumble and appeared dizzy,” according to Deputy Joanna Warren of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau. “The facility is not able to confirm if this was an overdose because it’s under investigation.”
At 5:41 p.m. Wednesday, at North County Correctional Facility, which is part of a separate complex at the center, fire officials responded to a request for four additional patients, which were reported as overdoses. Three patients ended up being transported for medical treatment using paramedics from a nearby fire station, per department officials.
Warren confirmed that all four inmates who had been transported from the jail were back at PDF as of several hours after the report.
The drugs that the inmates were believed to have overdosed on, based on preliminary reports, was a form of synthetic marijuana, also referred to as spice, Warren said, which might have been laced with additional chemicals. That information was based on initial reports gathered by investigators, and could change pending further investigation.
On Thursday evening, Villanueva tweeted out footage from the incidents at NCCF, as well as a statement, but sheriff’s officials noted additional information would be released pending further investigation.
“Currently, two Narcan doses are being distributed in each of the dorms at the (North County Correctional Facility),” according to a statement on the sheriff’s website Thursday. “If the pilot program continues to save lives, the department plans to expand this program to all custody facilities.”
Around 2:09 p.m. Friday, fire officials were again called to the Pitchess Detention Center regarding three additional patients who had overdosed and were taken to a local hospital.
Sheriff’s officials did not have any information immediately available regarding the circumstances of those reports, according to Sheriff’s Information Bureau officials.
A statement issued at 3:13 p.m. noted the additional incidents were also under investigation.
Naloxone, which is also known as Narcan, was introduced to first responders for official use in L.A. County in 2017. Known as an “opioid antagonist,” the drug “competes with opioids in the body, making that opioid ineffective,” according to Dr. Darrin Privett of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, who offered the explanation at the Sheriff’s Station rollout for Narcan in 2017.
The drug is carried by many first responders, Warren noted, but the sheriff’s pilot program in the jail is unique in that it gives inmates the ability to access Narcan on their own.