County Jail opens doors to FOX Files as health leaders combat overdoses

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The St. Louis County Jail, located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center, opened its doors as it battles the opioid epidemic.

The tour of the county jail comes as St. Louis City leaders announced the City Justice Center recently started tracking non-fatal overdoses inside the city’s jail. We’re told the County Justice Center began tracking non-fatal overdoses in the county’s facility earlier this year.

Dr. Kanika Cunningham is the Director of Public Health for St. Louis County, which also provides health services to the justice center.

“For us, as a medical team, it does not matter why you’re here,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse a drug overdose, is always on standby, regardless of whether the inmate admits to prior drug use.

“One of the highest times for someone to have an overdose is actually when they leave the jail, or even once they come in,” Cunningham said.

Earlier this year, the St. Louis County Justice Center started to track overdoses in the facility.

The Department of Public Health said they’ve administered Narcan 28 times this year. The county is investigating each instance to determine if it was an overdose.

“It does require a medical doctor or physician to be involved because a bystander may think, the person experienced an overdose, and it truly wasn’t,” Cunningham said.

Earlier this week, leaders in the City of St. Louis said they just recently started to track non-fatal overdoses inside the City Justice Center, an admission that came after nearly five weeks of questions from the FOX Files.

Back in the County Justice Center, authorities say only one person had a drug-involved death in the last couple of years.

Last month, in nearby St. Charles County, the jail said it was doing everything it could to stop drugs at the front door. Jail authorities announced a new amnesty box, which allows arrestees to give up anything that the offender is hiding before being booked. As long as the detainee gives it up before being processed into the jail, corrections officers will not add it to the list of charges.

Cunningham stresses the importance of tracking the data and properly investigating possible overdoses.

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She said each detainee who admits to drug use will be issued Narcan when they’re released from custody.

Researchers found people recently released from jail face a risk of opioid overdose 10 times greater than the public.

“They don’t have access to use, and they leave back out; a lot of times the cravings or withdrawal symptoms will lead someone to return to using,” Cunningham said. “That increases someone’s risk to overdose.”

The County Health Department is in charge of providing medical services at the County Justice Center. In the city, it’s privately contracted.


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