New Hampshire Halts Visitations After Four Prison Overdoses in One Week

By Paul Gaita 01/16/17

Prior to 2017, overdoses were a rare occurrence within the prison facilities—though drugs are not.

Empty visitation room.
Photo via YouTube

Drug overdoses among the inmate population at two prisons in New Hampshire—including one fatality—spurred state officials to cancel visitations while its Department of Corrections could determine how the substances entered the system.

Three inmates at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord were found unresponsive in residential areas of the facility during the weekend of Jan. 7. All three survived, but another inmate at the Calumet Transitional Housing Unit in Manchester did not.

Warden Michael Zenk of the Concord state prison canceled all visits for the week, allowing regular inmate visitations to resume on Saturday, Jan. 14.

Zenk addressed the visitation shutdown in a statement that read, "This action is being taken to protect the safety of the inmate population until the Department of Corrections Investigations Bureau can identify the type and source of the drugs used by the inmates as well as the point of entry for the drugs."

The bureau subsequently conducted what was described as a "thorough investigation" of both facilities, including the use of a K-9 unit. Medical examiners are also awaiting toxicology results taken as part of the autopsy on Michael Robert Cullen, 48, the man who died at Calumet.

Overdoses are rare at both facilities; Department of Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Lyons said that only one non-fatal overdose may have occurred within state prison walls last year, while the last fatal overdose was reported four years ago.

Overdoses at Calumet are only slightly less frequent. Manchester Fire Department records show responses to only five overdose calls in the last few years, including two in 2015. Two of the three inmates at Concord were given Narcan, as was Cullen, though he did not survive the revival attempt.

Despite the infrequent number of overdoses, drugs are prevalent in New Hampshire jails. Lyons said that Suboxone, used to wean off of opioids, is the drug most frequently found behind bars, though fentanyl and marijuana have also been found in contraband packages smuggled into prison.

Inmates and their families and friends outside of prison have often resorted to outrageous methods of delivering drugs, from babies' diapers and footballs thrown over walls, to Suboxone strips concealed in postage stamps, photographs and even children's drawings.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.