Florida’s prisons are being flooded with dangerous synthetic marijuana, causing a rash of inmate deaths. The Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO) for the state’s 14th Judicial District has confirmed that four deaths in the past year occurred after inmates had smoked synthetic cannabis, commonly known as spice or K2. The MEO suspects K2 as the cause of death in 18 more deaths behind bars, pending toxicology reports.
As the director of the MEO, Whit Majors assists in inmate death investigations. He said that the K2 being confiscated behind bars is laced with dangerous chemicals.
“What they think they are smoking is often not what they are smoking,” Majors told local media.
Majors said that some of the contraband K2 is being produced in correctional institutions by inmates. Department of Corrections (DOC) officials speculate that some of the spice circulating through facilities may be made by inmates soaking up insecticides sprayed on the floor by pest control companies.
“We’ve looked into the roach spray,” Majors said. “The pest control companies provided the name of the chemical, and our labs don’t have a way to test for it.”
Chemicals in K2 Have Deadly Consequences
Majors said that he has seen surveillance video of inmates after they have smoked K2. After appearing disoriented and stumbling, inmates have lost consciousness and asphyxiated on their own vomit or suffered seizures before going into cardiac arrest.
“It’s like watching a zombie,” said Majors.
Patrick Manderfield, the DOC press secretary, wrote that K2 is also being smuggled into institutions, sometimes by inmates and their families or visitors. Last year, the DOC confiscated 56,549 grams of synthetic cannabinoids.
“Synthetic drugs are relatively cheap, and inmates see it as a profitable form of contraband,” Manderfield wrote. “Recipes are readily available online, and the Department has intercepted homemade versions of it made with household chemicals through inmate mail.”
He also noted that the K2 being smuggled into institutions is taking its toll on the prisoner population.
“The influx of contraband, specifically synthetic and homemade drugs, is a contributing factor to the increase in inmate violence and in-custody deaths,” Manderfield added.
Correctional Officers Also Guilty of Smuggling
Correctional officers have also been responsible for smuggling items including K2 into prisons and jails. In one case, an officer at the Gulf Correctional Institute was allegedly caught smuggling 339 grams of synthetic cannabis into the prison at one time. The officer reportedly had the contraband hidden in her bra and feminine hygiene products as she arrived for work.
Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said that it is difficult for his officers to prevent the smuggling of illicit items into his department’s jail.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep contraband out,” he said. “Our line of work is unpredictable. And sometimes our preparations can’t catch everything. But we do the best we can.”
Manderfield of the DOC said a shortage of properly trained correctional officers is hampering the efforts to keep contraband out of correctional facilities.
“We have implemented an agency-wide effort to recruit and retain correctional officers statewide,” Manderfield added. “This is one of our highest priorities. The inability to properly staff our correctional facilities has a negative impact on all of our operations.”