LICKING, Mo. – Following the release of three additional toxicology reports, the wave of seven inmate deaths at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking in late August and September is now clearly tied to a drug problem in the men’s state facility, however, the Missouri Department of Corrections claims they can’t identify the primary source of drugs brought into state prisons.
The autopsy results for 42-year-old Terrell Dawson show he died from mixed drug toxicity of both fentanyl and xylazine.
This is the first death in Texas County in which xylazine, a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use, has been found on post-mortem examination.
According to Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater, users report using xylazine-containing fentanyl to lengthen its euphoric effects. Also known as “tranq,” xylazine is a central nervous system depressant that can cause drowsiness and amnesia and can slow breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to dangerously low levels.
In the event of a suspected xylazine overdose, experts recommend giving Narcan because xylazine is frequently combined with opioids. However, because xylazine is not an opioid, Narcan does not address the impact of xylazine on breathing, rendering it ineffective in many cases.
Lasater tells KOLR 10 Investigates that Dawson was administered four rounds of Narcan at the prison. Dawson’s toxicology report also showed fentanyl metabolites, indicating Dawson was likely a frequent fentanyl user. Although the level of fentanyl in Dawson’s body is considered more than two times the lethal limit, because he was a frequent user, the coroner determined the combination of fentanyl and xylazine is what killed him.
According to the warden, all inmate deaths are investigated. However, the prison has not released any additional information on any inmate deaths that occurred between Aug. 31 and Sept. 30.
Kaleb Smith’s toxicology report indicated he overdosed to death on seven times the lethal level of fentanyl. Lasater says meth was also found in the 27-year-old’s system, which is uncommonly found during autopsies conducted on state offenders. Smith had a recreational level of meth in his body, which is not a highly toxic level according to the coroner, and did not likely contribute to his death.
The fentanyl found in Smith’s system had a particular molecular signature known as 4-ANPP. Lasater says the molecular change does not alter the strength of the fentanyl but rather serves as a stamp to distinguish it from other types of fentanyl.
According to new information from Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater, inmate Oryon Guinn died from overdosing on nearly eight times the lethal level of fentanyl. The prison reported that 38-year-old Guinn died on Sept. 10.
The fentanyl shown in Guinn’s toxicology results also indicated it was of the 4-ANPP type.
KOLR 10 Investigates previously reported that inmate 35-year-old Demarco Washington overdosed on three times the lethal limit of fentanyl at the end of September.
Of the seven SCCC inmates who died in one month, one toxicology report is still pending for 29-year-old Robert Baker who was reported dead on Sept. 25.
Jeffrey Bolden & Roy Sinden
Autopsies were not performed on the other two inmates 55-year-old Jeffrey Bolden and 64-year-old Roy Sinden who died on Sept. 6 and Sept. 1 respectively. The coroner says both men died of stage 4 lung cancer.
Accountability at the Prison
In an email to KOLR 10 Investigates, Communications Director Karen Pojmann said in part:
“Anecdotally, many corrections professionals would say visitors are the primary source of contraband, but we really don’t know what the primary source is because often drugs aren’t found until they’re already inside the facility, at which point it can be difficult to trace the origins. We have discovered staff bringing drugs into prisons. Our investigators look into all suspicious behavior and work with local law enforcement to identify, arrest and prosecute any staff member engaged in this dangerous activity.
We are taking steps to reduce both the demand for and the supply of drugs. In July, the department tackled one major contraband pipeline by diverting offender postal mail to a mail processing center, where it is scanned and delivered to recipients electronically. We’re addressing addiction and the demand for drugs by expanding Medication Assisted Treatment (M.A.T.) and streamlining behavioral health services. We’re also expanding and revising naloxone (Narcan) access and procedures to help reverse overdoses and prevent deaths.
All offenders, staff, visitors, volunteers and other people entering a correctional center are screened at entry. We have body scanners. We use drug dogs. We use Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to conduct thorough searches of our facilities. We also work closely with local law enforcement to investigate all incidents in which someone is suspected of introducing dangerous contraband to a prison. Anyone found in possession of illegal contraband may be arrested and referred for prosecution.”South Central Corrections Center spokesperson
Pojmann denied an interview and has not answered whether any SCCC staff have been fired or arrested following KOLR 10 Investigates reporting. The Texas County Coroner confirms no other offenders at the state facility in Licking have died since we reported on the higher than average death rate in September.