2 inmates die of suspected overdose at Florida prison

Inmates found unresponsive at Columbia Correctional Institution

By Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist, Cali Kees - Associate producer

LAKE CITY, Fla. - Two inmates died and a third was in stable condition at a hospital Saturday after a suspected drug overdose at the Columbia Correctional Institution, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

According to a news release from the agency, security and medical staff responded to initiate lifesaving measures after the inmates were found unresponsive about 3:15 p.m. Staff who responded were checked out at a hospital for symptoms related to potential drug exposure.

Authorities have not said how many staff members are being treated.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating with the assistance of the department's Office of Inspector General.

"At this time our focus is on the health and swift recovery of the officers and individuals involved. The facility has been placed on lockdown, while we provide FDLE with everything they need to investigate this incident," Michelle Glady, director of communicators for the Florida Department of Corrections, said.

Richard Pari, who worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said whatever drug it was, it was very powerful. 

"To me, it sounds like it could be fentanyl. I'm not 100% sure on that, but that is consistent of fentanyl coming in contact through the exposure of skin," said Pari.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's 50 times stronger than heroin. 

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said you don't have to ingest fentanyl to experience its effects. 

"We have some type of drugs without ingesting it can cause bodily harm to you. Those are the most dangerous types because an innocent person can be involved just by contact, or just by being close enough to the person who has it or, in a lot of cases, it being shared on a regular basis, and that's what causes the effect of multiple people," said Jefferson.

There are many ways drugs can be smuggled inside a correctional institution. 

The most common way, Pari said, is through the visiting room. 

"Very possible that it could have come in through a visitor utilizing what we consider a balloon, something that they can cheek. They go to the bathroom,and they can basically take it out of their cavities and unfortunately, the person that they're gonna give it to is gonna be an inmate, and he's gonna ingest it, and very possible that if it was balloons, it could have burst," said Pari.

Visitation at the Columbia Correctional Institution was canceled on Sunday.

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