Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Finds New Inmates Attempting to Sneak Suspected Fentanyl into Jail System

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) announced last week that it had made multiple discoveries of suspected fentanyl pills being smuggled by newly booked inmates into the Intake, Transfer, and Release Facility (ITRF).

“This week alone MCSO detention officers have seized approximately 260 pills in the jail system, suspected to be fentanyl and pending lab analysis. The seizures were a compilation of three unique incidents,” according to the office.

The first incident involved a male caught passing pills to a fellow inmate. Further searching found 160 pills hidden within his body, which were recovered after officers received a search warrant against the inmate. The other two incidents occurred during routine search bookings where dozens of pills were found in and on a male and female inmate.

Additionally, a spokesperson for the MCSO told The Arizona Sun Times that this is not an uncommon issue.

“We have not had in-person visits in our facilities since 2005 and drugs continue to get in our jails. Methods used like the ones mentioned in our release are a common way the drugs are brought into our facilities. MCSO staff does a great job in detecting contraband but unfortunately its not enough,” the spokesperson said via email.

In a press conference at the start of January, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone (D) shed some insight into narcotics entering the jail system. In 2022, 282 incidents of illicit drugs in the prisons were reported, and 172 inmates were taken to the hospital for an overdose or drug-related incident. During the year, 17 in-custody deaths resulted from an overdose, and 114 inmates tested positive for fentanyl at some point.

In an attempt to mitigate the amount of contraband getting into the hands of prisoners, Penzone stated his interest in purchasing scanners, so anyone entering the secure areas of a prison can be checked, including the employees.

“I can’t exist as the head of an office knowing that we aren’t doing everything reasonable and humanly possible to ensure that drugs aren’t coming into our jails,” Penzone said.

Inmates are not the only ones trying to smuggle drugs into the jail system. At the same press conference, Penzone shared that former detention officer Andres Salazar, 26, who worked at Lower Buckeye jail, was taken into custody moments before the meeting. He had allegedly met with someone outside the prison and was paid $1000 to sneak drugs, including 100 fentanyl pills, meth, and heroin, into the prison. He was stopped in the jail’s parking lot, and officials believed this was his first attempt.

Additionally, Salazar admitted to remotely clocking into work and got paid overtime for 34 shifts he never actually worked, receiving over $8,000 in unearned money from the MCSO. He was hired in 2019 and now faces multiple charges, including possession of a narcotic drug, promoting prison contraband, transportation of narcotics for sale, and theft.

“A trusted member of this organization was willing to do something so egregious that it could have cost people their lives and that disgusts me,” said Penzone.

While Salazar was only smuggling 100 pills, that is more than enough to be fatal. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shared that just 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly depending on the user’s tolerance, and 42 percent of the pills they test contain over the lethal limit.

A 2021 report from Health & Justice found that fentanyl-related overdoses in the corrections system have risen across the country in recent years. The group of researchers said this was likely a spillover from the opioid crisis the country faces as a whole.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Fentanyl” by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.


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