Family To Sue After Father-Of-Four Dies From Withdrawal In Prison

By Victoria Kim 01/10/18

A family member says that the man had no medical issues beyond his heroin use that would explain how he could “just die in prison.”

Judge gavel, man and woman in background consoling each other

The family of Ed Zaleski, the Philadelphia man who was found dead in his jail cell on the eve of Halloween, plans to sue the city of Philadelphia for failing to prevent the death of the father-of-four and heroin user, even when he notified jail staff that he was going through withdrawal.

Zaleski, 53, was out on bail when he was picked up by police on a bench warrant stemming from a previous arrest that marked his third for theft, which meant that he would face a third-degree felony. He had been caught stealing video games from Walmart.

He was brought to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, a 24-hour intake facility, on the night before Halloween—but before he could be screened and processed, he was found dead “just hours” after he arrived.

Zaleski’s cause of death and toxicology report are still pending, according to WHYY. In the meantime, his family is planning to file a lawsuit against the city and the medical provider of its prison system, Corizon Health, for wrongful death. 

“He must have been pretty acutely ill to die in four hours,” said a woman named Holly, who had two sons with Zaleski. “You can’t ignore that. You can’t just not see that—someone who is that acutely ill that he’s going to die in four hours.”

According to her attorney, the prison system failed to meet its “legal obligation” to provide “immediate medical care” to Zaleski, who had reportedly informed intake staff at Curran-Fromhold that he “had done four bags of heroin shortly before his arrest and was suffering symptoms of withdrawal,” according to WHYY.

Holly says Zaleski had no medical issues beyond his heroin use that would explain how he could “just die in prison.”

According to Bruce Herdman, chief of medical operations of the Philadelphia Prison System, inmates processed at the facility are not tested for drugs, instead they are asked about their drug use and medical history. The prison system does have procedures in place for inmates with opioid addiction, meaning that Zaleski should have been flagged for observation or brought to the hospital.

Despite repeated attempts, Holly has not been able to find out what exactly happened at the facility on the night of Zaleski’s death. He was not the first drug user to die in jail suffering opioid withdrawal.

Brown University professor Josiah D. Rich, director and co-founder of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island, described the painful process of opioid withdrawal:

“Almost everybody who is withdrawing from opioids feels like they’re dying. It is a horrible, horrible feeling. Imagine the worst flu you ever had, and then imagine the worst stomach bug you ever had, with nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. Add those two things together and multiply it by between 100 and 1,000, and that’s starting to get at what it feels like.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr