More state prison deaths linked to K2 | Arkansas Blog

More state prison deaths linked to K2

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Even more inmate deaths have been connected to K2, also called synthetic marijuana, according to Jason Pederson of KATV, who is tweeting out details this morning.

UPDATE (3:09 p.m.): He said that the state Crime Lab says ten seven inmates' deaths were caused by K2 between July 2016 and Aug. 31, 2017 and that there are six five more deaths where K2 is related but could not be confirmed.

His longer report will be aired on KATV tonight at 10.

Pederson told us he will be profiling twelve K2-related deaths during the report: half occurred in the July 2016 to Aug. 31, 2017 time span and half occurred after Aug. 31. Of these 12 deaths, seven have been confirmed as caused by K2 and five others where "K2/drug use is a suspected cause," he said on Twitter.

This follows the Arkansas Times' report about the rise of K2 use in prisons and multiple deaths associated with its use. K2-related incidents went from just 6 in 2013 to 707 in the first seven months of 2017, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

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K2 is not one thing but, instead, a mixture of synthetic cannabinoids that bind to the same site as the active ingredient in marijuana. Unlike marijuana though, K2 can be deadly. The complexity of the drug makes it hard to detect and popular among populations that need to pass drug tests, such as prisoners.

The state Crime Lab has struggled to find strains of K2 in autopsies because of the difficulty in detecting it. Also, most drug overdoses are from ingesting multiple substances, and this further complicates toxicological reports. K2's symptoms are varied — from vomiting to death to psychotic episodes. Someone jumping off a balcony could be high on K2.

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This has left a series of inmate deaths that prisoners, guards and even internal ADC emails indicate were believed to have been caused by K2, but were not reported as related to the drug.

One example of this is the death of Julian Shavers, a 38-year-old inmate who guards found covered in vomit in his cell. A "blunt," or rolled cigarette, of K2 was found beside his body. Arkansas State Police were late to the scene to investigate and, as such, unable to do anything but check the autopsy. No mention was made of K2 in the State Police report that relied on the autopsy. It's unlikely the autopsy could have confirmed it in any case because of difficulty in detecting it and the way it interacts with other drugs.

KATV has reported that Shaver's death was caused not by K2 but another drug, according to Shavers' sister. Nonetheless, a guard told the Times Shavers was high on K2 when he died.

Here are other deaths that have been connected to K2 so far by KATV via Twitter:

* Jody Cook, 42, died Aug. 8, 2016, at the Varner Unit hours after consuming a "kite" or piece of paper either containing or laced with drugs in an effort to keep it from a guard.

Jody Cook - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Jody Cook

* Danta Sullivan, died Oct. 27, 2016, at the Ouachita River unit. He jumped from a third-floor balcony to his death. K2 is known to cause psychotic/suicidal episodes.

Danta Sullivan - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Danta Sullivan

* Donnie Nahlen, 64, died April 17 at Cummins.  Nahlen was found to have died from natural causes, but his wife says he was healthy and a fellow inmate says he died after smoking K2. Nahlen's wife says he told her before his death that the guards are bringing drugs in.

Donnie Nahlen - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Donnie Nahlen


* 45 year-old Larry Barrett. DOD: 4/25/17. Cummins. Barrett got a 15 year sentence in 2008 for a drug-related conviction. His autopsy revealed a death by "Natural causes" but a fellow inmate says K2 killed him. The synthetic drug is notoriously hard to detect.

Larry Barrett - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Larry Barrett

* 61 year-old Kirby Joe Coggin. DOD: 6/28/17. Cummins. Coggin got life w/out parole for murder in 2002. He had drug-related disciplinaries while in prison. He told a fellow inmate that he was going to sell all his commissary package items and buy enough K2 to kill himself.

Kirby Joe Coggin - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Kirby Joe Coggin

* 31 year-old Stephen Shaw. DOD: 8/4/17. Cummins. Shaw got 55 years in 2013 for murder/arson. "Natural causes" is his cause of death but he had drug discliplinaries while in prison and the mother of an inmate says this otherwise young and healthy inmate was killed by K2.

Stephen Shaw - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Stephen Shaw

* 33 year-old Devon Lemay. DOD: 8/29/17. East Arkansas RU. The State Police continues to investigate Lemay's death, who was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell. His sister says he was due to get out in six weeks. She says a guard told her Lemay OD'd...possibly on K2.

Devon Lemay - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Devon Lemay

* 30 year-old Cody Brickner. DOD: 9/2/17. Tucker Max. The cause of Brickner's death remains under investigation by State Police. He was found dead in his cell at 1:30 am. Earlier this year he earned 16 days in isolation for using drugs or alcohol.
Cody Brickner - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Cody Brickner

* 29 year-old Kenneth Jones. DOD: 9/9/17. Cummins. Jones was found unresponsive in his cell. His cause of death is listed as "Natural" but State Police is investigating. Caught with drugs in 2015, a fellow inmate and the mother of an inmate says Jones died after using K2.

Kenneth Jones - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Kenneth Jones

* 50 year-old Anthony Howard. DOD: 9/15/17. East Arkansas RU. Howard was pronounced dead 20 minutes after being found unresponsive in his cell. State Police is investigating. He was close to completing a 15 year sentence out of Sebastian county.
Anthony Howard - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • Anthony Howard
* 34 year-old James Walker. DOD: 9/20/17. Cummins. Walker got 30 days/isolation for using drugs last year. He was hospitalized after "an incident" that State Police is investigating. A fellow inmate claims Walker was beaten to death over a K2 drug debt owed to another inmate.

James Walker - KATV, JASON PEDERSON
  • KATV, Jason Pederson
  • James Walker

The ADC has never acknowledged that multiple deaths were caused by  K2. However, Director Wendy Kelley and other top officials — according to internal emails and former guards who spoke to the Times — know that K2 has been a factor in deaths.

The ADC said it has responded to K2 by putting up signs and holding informational sessions on the dangers while also cracking down on contraband. But, according to multiple prisoners, the response to a person high on K2 has been to send them to an isolated cell, away from medical care they might need.

A prisoner, who spoke to the Times this week, said that inmates are still isolated when caught high on K2, and that there has "not [been] anything: no seminars or drug awareness things."

It is unclear if there has been a crackdown on prison employees who, in our reporting, have been described as the main source of K2 and other contraband.


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