July 17, 2021 – JENKINS: Essentially treating one illicit drug with another – not the way doctors would have treated him, but Olivares-Pelayo credits his friends with saving his life. That was in 2010. But access to illegal drugs in prisons continues with more dire consequences as powerful drugs like fentanyl have taken over, and the cost can be seen in the prison mortality rate. The nonpartisan advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative recently reviewed federal data collected from 2001 to 2018. They focused on unnatural deaths. That includes homicide, suicide and those caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Suicides have been increasing rapidly, but one category really stood out.

WANDA BERTRAM: There’s been a 600% rise in drug and alcohol intoxication deaths over the last 20 years.

JENKINS: Wanda Bertram is with the initiative. She says the new federal data does not include information about what drugs people are using behind bars. To get a better sense, KJZZ and The Marshall Project examined death analysis information from California’s prison system, among the country’s largest. We also interviewed prison employees and currently and formerly incarcerated people in five states. We found that opioids, synthetic marijuana and methamphetamine are, by far, the most prevalent.