Missouri prison officials are working to stem the flow of contraband after multiple overdoses, including a few that were deadly.
The Missouri Department of Corrections began tracking last May after inmates began overdosing in administrative segregation, which is one of the most secure and isolated parts of prison. Over the next nine months, there were 146 overdoses spread throughout the state prison system, with multiple drugs to blame, according to information the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained through a records request.
Three inmates died from opioids, including Nicholas Pickett. The 25-year-old had cocaine in his system, but an autopsy blamed his May 2017 death at the Moberly Correctional Center on the painkiller fentanyl.
Pickett's father, Chris Pickett, said there needs to be better surveillance and higher standards for prison employees, whom, he says, don't undergo the same searches as visitors. While it's unclear where the drugs came from that killed his son, he cited the case of a corrections officer in Moberly who was arrested three months prior for having 40 capsules of heroin and other drugs.
"My son died, and he shouldn't have died," said Pickett, whose son was five years into a 14-year sentence for robbery and possession of a controlled substance. The autopsy found track marks between his son's toes and on his left arm. Surveillance video also showed suspicious activity around his cell before he was found unresponsive inside.
Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said overdoses are a priority issue for director Anne Precythe. In May, when the department began tracking them, Precythe called for more thorough contraband searches. The corrections department also is re-evaluating procedures designed to prevent staff from smuggling drugs.
Pojmann said opioids are particularly problematic. Some have tried to hide the drugs in the glue flaps of envelopes and under stamps. Food visits for offenders with good behavior have been temporarily suspended because visitors were trying to smuggle drugs in that way, a clampdown that has hit offender morale.
"There is a big problem with opioids because they are available in such small and potent dosages," Pojmann said. "We have to be really vigilant and go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. It's a challenge."