The Lorain County Jail can’t keep out the the nation’s opiate epidemic.
A fentanyl overdose killed inmate and Wellington resident Joseph Boden on March 20, Lorain County coroner Stephen Evans said Wednesday.
Evans said toxicological tests were unable to determine whether the fentanyl was injected, snorted, or swallowed in pill form.
Deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin, have spiked in Lorain County and the rest of Ohio.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 514 people died from fentanyl in Ohio in 2014 compared to 92 in 2013, a 458-percent increase. And at 1,245, Ohio led the nation in fentanyl seizures by police in 2014, nearly 100 percent more than second-ranked Massachusetts.
Evans said many of Lorain County’s approximately 30 fatal overdoses this year have been from fentanyl or a combination with other drugs. The death toll has the county on a pace to exceed the record 67 residents who fatally overdosed in 2013.
There were 65 deaths last year.
“The jail is like a microcosm of the rest of society,” Evans said. “Unfortunately, it’s getting into all segments of our society.”
A report on the death was unavailable Wednesday, but a March 21 news release from Lorain County sheriff Phil Stammitti said Boden was alert and standing at an 11 p.m. headcount. At 11:25 p.m., the release said guards were alerted that Boden needed help and medical staff responded “immediately.”
Andy Laubenthal, jail administrator, said Wednesday that guards and a nurse responded and administered CPR before paramedics arrived. He said naloxone, which is distributed under the brand name Narcan, wasn’t used.
The nasal spray is a synthetic narcotic that blocks the effects of opiates like fentanyl on the nervous system and can revive overdose victims if used promptly. Citing the ongoing investigation, Laubenthal wouldn’t say why naloxone wasn’t used.
Deaths at the jail are rare.
Before Boden, the last death involved a female inmate who committed suicide in 2012, Laubenthal said. A female inmate died of natural causes in 2011.
Laubenthal said the death was “shocking” and staff tried hard to save Boden. “Regrettably, that did not happen,” he said.
However, Jessica Boden, the deceased’s widow, said inmates contacted her and told her guards initially told them to go back to bed when they alerted them that Boden was having convulsions. She said inmates said they splashed cold water on Boden’s face in an attempt to revive him before staff arrived.
How fentanyl got into the jail remains under investigation. People visiting inmates have no physical contact with inmates and communicate by video, Laubenthal said.
He said inmates are frisked when they enter the jail, which has a daily population of about 411 inmates and on a typical day has at least a dozen incoming inmates.
Laubenthal said drugs are found about once a week and usually confiscated from incoming prisoners. When inmates attempt to smuggle in drugs, Laubenthal said they are increasingly transporting them in their anuses. However, he said body cavity searches are rarely done at the jail.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision said safety trumps the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures and body cavity searches of incoming jail inmates are legal. Nonetheless, Laubenthal said probable cause is needed because, unlike prisons, most jail inmates have pending court cases and haven’t been convicted.
Laubenthal said the jail is considering buying a body scanner like the kind used at airports. We found one body scanner advertised on eBay for $113,000.
Boden, a 37-year-old father of three who did concrete pouring and roofing, started serving a sentence for theft Jan. 4 and was to be released April 3.
While Boden had an extensive criminal record including convictions for burglary, cocaine possession, and drunken driving, Jessica Boden said he was a loving father and husband. She said he had completed drug treatment in the summer and was looking forward to being released and starting a new job.
Boden said she and her young daughter and son have been devastated by the death. She said he made a bad choice, but didn’t deserve to die.
“He had a big heart,” Boden said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-647-3171 or GoodenowNews on Twitter.