“You’re not going to see me again,” screamed Gary Douglas (name changed) in piteous tones, while armed guards escorted him back to his cell at the San Quentin State Prison, located north of San Francisco. Stripped of nearly every freedom and condemned to death by a lethal injection, the 53-year-old death row inmate from Los Angeles was sweating profusely and behaving in a strange manner after a brief check-up at the prison’s medical unit. Hours later, security officers found Douglas dead in his cell. Subsequent toxicology tests revealed the presence of deadly levels of methamphetamines in his blood.
According to Marin County coroner records, six death row inmates died mysteriously in their cells between 2010 and 2015. Tests confirmed high levels of methamphetamines, heroin metabolites or other drugs in their system. In fact, one of them was found to have five snipped fingers of a latex glove, stuffed with methamphetamine and marijuana in his intestines, and had succumbed to an overdose. Another senior inmate died of extremely high methamphetamine toxicity, whereas reports of many others indicated instances of chronic drug abuse.
“Drugs have considerable value inside prison and so some inmates have a very strong incentive to procure them,” proclaimed an official statement given by state corrections officials. California’s prisons are infamous for their high rates of drug smuggling activities, which are seven times higher than prisons in rest of the country, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the state prison medical office.
According to media reports, authorities in California have spent around $15 million to prevent drug smuggling by inmates who often resort to creative and ingenious means to get drugs inside the prisons. Recently, instances of smugglers opting for tricks such as concealing methamphetamines in bars of soaps or heroin under postage stamps have been busted by prison officials. Authorities often report incidents where visitors to the prisons conceal drugs in their mouths or body cavities and pass them secretly to the inmates during visiting hours. The inmates, in turn, are known to hide the drugs in unique locations such as housing unit shower drains, refrigerators and trash bins.
However, in the recent past, stringent security measures such as the use of surveillance cameras and scanners, frequent urine tests of inmates and deployment of sniffer dog squads in three state prisons have proved effective in curbing the menace. Moreover, intentional seizures of mobile phones has further reduced drug smuggling by another 13 percent.
Statistics show that an average American in prison is more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with a mental health problem, and women inmates, in particular, are known to suffer higher rates of mental illness than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women in prisons are three times more likely than the general population to report poor physical and mental health, which heightens their vulnerability to substance abuse. Sadly, the nation’s prisons are bursting at the seams with drugged offenders and prisoners accessing drugs, and are a burden on the state’s coffers when the reality is that the convicts should be treated instead. Added to this is the fact that correctional mental health services for inmates are currently inadequate due to the non-availability of the required treatment and funding.
The need of the hour is early diagnosis and treatment for those who are highly prone to crime. The government should strive to ensure alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders battling with drug addiction. Giving them alternative treatment options would ensure appropriate treatment in therapeutic settings, curb overcrowding in a correctional setup, and minimize relapse rates and incarceration costs.
Why does the brain give in to substance abuse?
Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has conducted extensive research on the neurological conception of drug abuse. According to his findings, the answer lies in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells beneath the cerebral hemispheres, which play a central role in the reward circuit.
On performing an action or task that satisfies a necessity or desire, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens to produce a pleasurable sensation. In fact, this entire system is known as the reward pathway. Studies have shown that the brain records every experience that is associated with a reward and triggers the urge to relive the same experience in order to obtain the same reward again. However, in the case of people addicted to drugs, they block the release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens region causing everything else to appear less rewarding.
In the natural order of things, it takes a lot of hard work, effort and patience to reap rewards. However, addictive drugs, alcohol and other intoxicating substances provide an effortless shortcut to access the sense of pleasure that rewards bring. Therefore, the brains of individuals addicted to substances lose their natural capacity to produce dopamine in the reward systems, and the only swift means to replicate a dopamine rush becomes drugs.
Unfortunately, more and more people with an addiction are building tolerance to drugs and may constantly require higher doses and a quicker passage into the brain to obtain the same high. Owing to addiction and repeated instances of drug abuse, the normal machinery of motivation cease to function in such individuals, creating the need for the substance even when it no longer causes pleasure.
Journey to recovery
Addiction can alter one’s brain and behavior, making it almost impossible to withstand the temptation of a drug or any other intoxicant. People with addiction will go to any extent to satisfy their cravings. The truth is most individuals fall prey to addiction more quickly than they may ever realize. The only way to break free from the clutches of deadly substances is to undergo a specialized treatment for addiction at a professional drug addiction rehab center to combat the life-wrecking effects of the drug.
Sovereign Health understands the plight of someone who is unable to discontinue the use of harmful substances despite the negative impact on his or her life. Our customized addiction recovery programs at Sovereign Health of San Clemente are designed to treat the person holistically. If you or your loved one is battling addiction to any drug, call at our 24/7 helpline number or chat online to know about the most effective rehab programs offered at our centers.