Indiana jails turn to body scanners to address opioid crisis

The opioid crisis in Indiana is presenting particular difficulties for sheriffs and jail supervisors, with people arrested for drugs sometimes risking their lives to keep their fix.

In August, alone, two people in or on their way to the Marion County Jail were hospitalized for drug overdoses. Another man who swallowed several baggies of cocaine shortly before his arrest collapsed in his cell and later died, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Many law enforcement officials say drug abuse is fueling a surge in crime, and the challenges at jails only begin with an arrest. That includes the time and resources spent trying to prevent drug addicts from harming themselves while in jail, including inmates who try to smuggle drugs inside by swallowing contraband in a balloon or stuffing it into a body cavity.

“Opioid abuse, drug abuse, addiction, those are the things that are driving the tremendous increase in incarcerated individuals,” said Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richards.

In response, many jails are turning to scanners like those used at airports by the TSA. The $200,000 machines can see items that have been swallowed or hidden inside the body.

“This is an insurance policy,” said Capt. Jason Sloderbeck, commander of the Hamilton County Jail. Inmate deaths from overdoses can lead to costly lawsuits, he said.

In Marion County, jail staff administered 27 doses of Narcan, a life-saving overdose drug, from July 1 to Aug. 30. That’s roughly one inmate overdose about every other day for two months.

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