Inmates Are Dying of Heroin Withdrawal in Jail

Deaths that advocates say are preventable
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 11, 2016 2:25 PM CDT
Inmates Are Dying of Heroin Withdrawal in Jail
Stephanie Moyer displays one of her daughter Victoria "Tori" Herr's dreams kept on scraps of paper in a jar during an interview with the AP in Lebanon, Pa., on Friday.   (Matt Rourke)

In the days following her 18-year-old daughter's first arrest on heroin charges, Stephanie Moyer took solace in thinking she would be safe in jail until she got into a treatment program. But Victoria "Tori" Herr sounded disoriented on a call home three days later. She feared she was dying and complained of being thirsty, her mother says. Herr, who had a 10-bag-a-day habit, collapsed following days of severe vomiting and diarrhea at Pennsylvania's Lebanon County Correctional Facility. She spent five days in the hospital, then died on Easter Sunday 2015. Her case is one of at least a half-dozen deaths nationwide during the last two years involving jail heroin withdrawal, and advocates fear the number will grow given the nation's heroin crisis, the AP reports. Advocates find the deaths particularly troubling because opioid withdrawal, while miserable, is treatable.

"This is a woman who died because she was detoxing," says Moyer's lawyer, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday. "Had Tori Herr's withdrawal been treated ... she almost certainly would be alive today." Warden Robert Karnes told Moyer that his staff followed "all operational protocols," the lawsuit says. Other withdrawal deaths have been reported at jails around the country, an issue that a co-counsel on the suit calls an "emerging, growing problem." Although the general medical director of the Philadelphia prison system says quitting heroin is one of the "safer withdrawals" compared with alcohol and some other drugs, smaller jails may lack in-house medical units or sufficient monitoring, which advocates say can amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Dehydration brought on by vomiting and diarrhea can lead to delirium, an electrolyte imbalance, and cardiac damage. Click for more. (More heroin stories.)

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