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Lannom Williams Law Group - Providing criminal defense and civil trial practice for Wilson County, Tennessee

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Lebanon, TN 37087
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Should I Bail My Addicted Child Out of Jail?

It’s a question that no parent should ever have to ask themselves but, sadly, many parents are forced to – “Should I post bail when my child is addicted to drugs?”.

Opiate and benzodiazepines addictions are common today. Opiates are primarily pain killers (including Oxycontin and heroin) and a common benzodiazepine is Xanax. It is possible that one of your family or friends may use these drugs with or without a prescription. For many years, parents have seen their adult addicted child's arrest as a chance for them to get clean. Jail may have been the only untried option to break addiction and occasionally it just might work.

Today, we live in a different time with new stronger drugs and not posting bail in order to get the child "cleaned up" could be a death sentence.

When Tyler Tabor was booked in a jail outside Denver in 2015, he told a screening nurse that he was a daily heroin user and had a prescription for Xanax. A friendly 25-year-old with a wife and a son in kindergarten, Tabor had started using opioids after he injured his back on the job. When he was arrested on two minor warrants, his parents decided not to pay his $300 bail, believing he would be safer in jail and off heroin.

But Tyler died in jail three days later. The coroner’s report said the cause of death was dehydration and the alleged cause of dehydration was drug withdrawal. Dying from opiate withdrawal outside of jail is exceedingly rare because, with few exceptions, it is so preventable. Dehydration, a withdrawal symptom that kills, can be treated with an IV. It’s nearly unheard of to withdraw from opioids without slowly tapering off or having emergency medical care, according to Kevin Fiscella. Mr. Fiscella is an addiction specialist who sits on the board of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), which accredits correctional health services. “What’s happening in jails, it’s kind of a natural experiment to see what happens,” he says. “And in fact, some people do die. When a user quits opioids cold turkey, the body quickly starts to experience the opposite effects of the original drug, resulting in a rarely fatal but often tortuous withdrawal process that can persist for days or weeks. Where opioids reduce pain, withdrawal makes the body hypersensitive to it. Opioids induce euphoria; withdrawal feels like the world is going to end. Opioids cause constipation; withdrawal causes diarrhea and vomiting. If a person going through withdrawal can’t keep fluids down and is not given an IV, he or she can succumb to dehydration." [Lurie, Mother Jones Online, Feb 2017]

In my experience, jails will not give any opiates or benzodiazepines to addicted inmates during withdrawal. It is easier for them to have a blanket policy than deal with independent medical care for inmates. This is could well be a life or death decision. Withdrawal from opiates cause symptoms that result in death and sudden withdrawal from benzodiazepines can cause seizures that can kill.

I meet with as many parents as I do people incarcerated. I hate to see the pain of addiction and I share their desire for the child to live a good life without addiction. I see the relief of parents who worry every night whether their child is going to die of an overdose or get killed on the street. It’s easy to see how they would feel their child is safer in jail and think maybe they can rest for a few days without worry. Yet, when strong drugs are involved, there is a lot of danger in allowing a "cold turkey" withdrawal.

I have lost to many clients in recent years to drug addiction and now I fear I will lose more to withdrawal. These are good people, people just like you and me, except they are addicted to drugs. It’s time the penal system more adequately and humanely deals with addiction.

Humane. That is the word we should remember when we think about Taylor. We should think it when we read the last words 18-year-old Tori Herr said to her Mom before she died of dehydration in jail during her withdrawal, “I just want something to drink”. She had been arrested for shoplifting. Or when we envision David Stojcevski, a 32-year-old who died in the floor of his jail cell, convulsing and shivering, after 16 days of detoxing and losing over 50 pounds. David was in jail for not being able to pay a careless driving fine.

Taylor, Tori and David are just a few of the young people who died lonely and violently painful deaths in the penal system. They were put there for minor infractions of the law and left there by families who loved them and who thought they were doing the right thing for them.

Although, with more withdrawal deaths happening in jails across the United States, a strong argument to post bail and get professional or at least attentive care for our loved ones in these situations is easy to make. 

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