More than a dozen inmates at the Westchester County Jail have been hospitalized in the last two weeks after becoming sick following apparent drug overdoses that authorities believe may have been related to synthetic marijuana, officials said Tuesday.
Three inmates fell ill July 12; another got sick Sunday and four more showed signs of apparent overdoses, including abdominal pain, vomiting and hallucinations, Monday night, authorities said at a news briefing Tuesday. Authorities believe the inmates may have been smoking the synthetic marijuana, though they are awaiting lab results to confirm the cause of the apparent overdoses.
Residue and a water bottle that was being used as a pipe was found at the jail.
Two inmates among the 13 that have been hospitalized face charges of promoting contraband in connection with the case. Authorities said Deron Strange, who was in jail on an assault charge, had the remains of a hand-rolled cigarette. They said James Graziano, being held on a parole violation, had a plastic bottle that was altered into a pipe.
Another four inmates, 33-year-old Paul Overton, 33-year-old Kevin Murph, 27-year-old Franklin Sanchez and 21-year-old Drew Senior were charged Tuesday with promoting contraband. They are expected to be arraigned Thursday.
Calls to Legal Aid, which provides legal representation to poor people including inmates, were not immediately returned.
The investigation into how the inmates allegedly obtained the drugs is ongoing. But jail officials suspect the drugs are being smuggled in by visitors and passed to inmates during so-called contact visits.
"At the beginning and end of the visit so he can embrace, have a brief kiss, pick up a baby, so that's an avenue we are exporing," said Westchester County Corrections Deputy Commissioner Justin Pruyme.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said he's reconsidering whether inmates should be allowed to hug family and friends during the twice-weekly contact visits, so precious to families. He said he's talking to state correction officials about making a change.
"Our goal is zero tolerance because these incidents put everyone at risk," he said.
Astorino ordered a sweep of the 240-cell facility Monday night; four inmates were found to be in possession of drugs, authorities said.
The jail has about 1,100 inmates. All of the apparent overdose patients were either listed in stable condition Tuesday or had been returned to the jail. Investigators are reviewing video and visitor records.