Advocates fear more heroin withdrawal deaths in jails

  • By Wire Service
  • Monday, July 11, 2016 5:56pm
  • Local News

By Maryclaire Dale

Associated Press

LEBANON, Pa. — 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.

However, Victoria “Tori” Herr sounded disoriented on a call home three days later. She feared she was dying and complained of being thirsty, her mother said.

Herr, who had a 10-bag-a-day habit, collapsed following days of severe vomiting and diarrhea at the 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 past two years involving jail heroin withdrawal, and advocates fear the number will grow given the nation’s heroin crisis. Advocates find the deaths particularly troubling because opioid withdrawal, while miserable, is rarely life-threatening if medication, monitoring and intravenous fluids are available.

“This is a woman who died because she was detoxing,” said Moyer’s lawyer, Jonathan Feinberg, 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. Jail and county officials didn’t return calls Monday seeking comment.

“This is an emerging, growing problem, and it’s hitting communities all over the country. That’s exponentially so in jails,” said Emma Freudenberger, a co-counsel on the lawsuit.

Withdrawal deaths have been reported at other jails:

In Oregon, a 26-year-old woman wrote increasingly dire notes to jail staff begging for help before she died after six days behind bars in 2014, The Oregonian reported.

Near Detroit, a 32-year-old man lost 50 pounds during a monthlong stay in 2014 as he struggled to withdraw from methadone, opioids and the anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine. A jail video shows him lying naked on a stone floor during what his family’s lawsuit called his slow, painful death.

In Colorado, a 25-year-old man died last year after he was prescribed a mixture of drugs to treat his withdrawal symptoms but never received them, according to his family’s lawsuit.

Dr. Eke Kalu, the general medical director of the Philadelphia prison system, said quitting heroin is one of the “safer withdrawals” compared with alcohol and some other drugs. The city screens inmates to assess their need for medication or IV fluids. Officials couldn’t remember an opiate withdrawal death in the past decade.

Officials at Rikers Island, in New York, have long run a methadone maintenance program, which experts believe can help detainees kick their habit and lower the risk of relapse. But smaller jails may lack in-house medical units or sufficient monitoring. Advocates say that can amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Freudenberger believes jail officials in Lebanon should have sent Herr to a hospital earlier.

Herr was staggering by the time she was taken to the medical unit the last night there, according to Moyer’s lawsuit. She was given water and Ensure, but resumed vomiting when she returned to her cell, the lawsuit said. Dehydration brought on by constant vomiting and diarrhea can lead to delirium, an electrolyte imbalance and cardiac damage. Herr also went without oxygen after she collapsed, the suit said.

Moyer last saw her the day before her arrest, when they talked about an inpatient treatment program. “I told her that her name was Victoria and that’s close to ‘victorious,’ and I promised her she would be victorious in getting through it,” Moyer said.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Democrats advance assault weapons ban, new rules for gun buyers

The measures passed a House committee without Republican support. They are part of a broader agenda to curb gun violence.

A person and child watch seagulls on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Cold weather returning to Western Washington

Nightly temperatures in the 20s with highs in the 30s were expected this weekend. Cold weather shelters will be open.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Marysville State of the City address set for Feb. 1

Mayor Jon Nehring will highlight 2022 accomplishments and look to the future. Questions from the audience will follow.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A move to require voting and a bicameral chasm on vehicle pursuits

It’s Day 19 and the mood is heating up as the third week of the 2023 legislative session comes to an end.

Lynnwood County Council candidate Joshua Binda is the subject of two complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission. (Josh Binda campaign photo)
Binda fined $1,000 for misuse of campaign contributions

The Lynnwood Council member’s personal use of donor funds was a “serious violation” of campaign law, the state PDC concluded.

Juniper DeCasso, 17, prepares groceries for pickup at the Edmonds Food Bank in Edmonds, Washington on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Scriber Lake High School student Juniper works at the Edmonds Food bank as part of an on-the-job training class that teaches students about career options and goal planning, while also paying them for a part-time internship. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
School program gives Scriber Lake teens class credits — and paychecks

The on-the-job training program offers paid internships and career planning assignments with a real-world feel.

Dr. Robert Carsrud from the 2015 King County Voters Pamphlet. (King County Elections)
State to pay $600K over psychologist’s harassment at Monroe prison

In a federal lawsuit, Tressa Grummer alleged persistent sexual harassment as an intern by her supervisor, Robert Carsrud.

Construction crews work on the Lynnwood Light rail station on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Sound Transit asserts Bellevue-Redmond line won’t delay Lynnwood light rail

Its board approved $6 million to study an East Link “starter line.” Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell said: “Snohomish County wants to ride, too.”

FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. An effort to balance what is considered the nation's most regressive state tax code comes before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in a case that could overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Justices weigh legality of tax aimed at rebalancing state’s tax code

The state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s.

Most Read