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Multiple drug overdoses triggered mass casualty incident at Halawa prison, DPS confirms

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 3:43 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 17, 2021 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Multiple drug overdoses triggered a mass casualty incident Thursday at Halawa Correctional Facility in which seven inmates had to be rushed to area hospitals, the state Department of Public Safety confirms. Two of the inmates were in serious condition.

Sources say the overdoses are nothing new but that it is the first time so many went down at once.

Honolulu police, ambulances and the Honolulu Fire Department all responded to the Halawa facility just before noon Thursday after a 911 call from prison staff.

A truck used to test for hazardous materials, radiation and biological agents was even dispatched.

“Upon arrival the teams entered and were presented with seven ill patients. They were assessed for an unknown medical condition,” said city Emergency Services Director Jim Ireland.

On Friday, officials confirmed the hospital’s diagnoses were “drug intoxication.” The inmates were stabilized and returned back to prison Thursday night.

Law enforcement sources say the drug overdoses are part of an ongoing issue.

It’s believed inmates are receiving letters laced with a drug, possibly “spice,” and that they’re putting the paper on their tongue to get high.

The incident comes a week after a 30-year-old inmate at the facility died. Prison staff initially found him unresponsive in his cell.

Sources say the man had tested positive for COVID. But according to the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office, his official cause of death remains under investigation.

“I’ve been hearing over the past month there’s been spice, meth and swipe ― prison alcohol you know ― rampant in Halawa,” said Kat Brady, coordinator of Community Alliance on Prisons.

She said the state Department of Public Safety is under extreme stress.

“They are really short-staffed so that’s been a huge problem,” she said.

But she doesn’t understand why prison administrators aren’t taking the problem more seriously and wonders if they are not being informed.

“How could you not know that when people are brought to medical or ask for medical attention. Why doesn’t downtown know that,” Brady asked.

“I think there’s a disconnect between the facilities and the departments downtown.”

DPS officials say the agency works hard to monitor and eliminate contraband pathways.

In a statement Halawa Warden Scott Harrington said:

“I want to personally thank my hard-working staff for their quick response. They noticed something was wrong and went into immediate action to assess the inmate’s health and put out the call for medical assistance all while maintaining constant security control.”

Prison officials said they were searching the facility for any contraband. Brady stressed that search should be of the entire prison, not just the inmate’s cells.

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