Licking, MO — The month of September was deadly at the men’s state prison in Licking and for the first time, lab results confirm what authorities suspected: at least one of the deaths over the course of that month was a fentanyl overdose.
Previous reporting shows seven inmates died in one month at the South Central Correctional Center, where KOLR 10 Investigates revealed the death rate that month was much higher than the average monthly mortality rate at state prisons nationwide.
Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater confirms 35-year-old Demarco Washington’s toxicology report showed three times the lethal limit of fentanyl in his system when he was pronounced dead on Sept. 30. Lasater said Washington also had marijuana in his system when he died.
“The toxicology report also shows marijuana, but it was a relatively small level and nothing that would have contributed to Washington’s death,” Lasater said.
Washington’s overdose happened after the Missouri Department of Corrections changed its mail rules on July 1. According to MDOC, “Effective July 1, 2022, personal postal mail is no longer accepted at Missouri Department of Corrections Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) correctional facilities. All personal mail for correctional center residents is scanned and delivered electronically.”
A major reason behind the change is that it limits the possibility of drugs and other contraband from getting to inmates through the mail.
The group Missouri Prison Reform calls attention to drug overdoses in Missouri’s prisons, questioning how drugs are getting into SCCC and other facilities now that receiving personal mail is prohibited.
Of the seven inmates who died at SCCC, two died of cancer. Autopsies were performed on the other five. Families tell KOLR 10 Investigates they’re fed up waiting on toxicology reports that are taking abnormally long to return results.
Prior to Demarco Washington’s death, Lasater also voiced frustration about how long it takes to receive toxicology report results. In an effort to get information to families quicker, Lasater stopped using the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office for forensic lab testing. The coroner says that’s why she knows Washington overdosed on fentanyl. She is still waiting for toxicology results on the previous inmates who died.
Lasater anticipates she will have toxicology reports within a month after an inmate dies going forward.