Santa Barbara Co. Sheriff Bill Brown speaks about ongoing overdose issues at Northern Branch Jail

Santa Barbara Co. Sheriff Bill Brown speaks about ongoing overdose issues at Northern Branch Jail

Roughly half a year after the opening of Santa Maria’s Northern Branch Jail, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported its first inmate overdose. In the months since, six more have taken place.

Of those inmate overdoses, three of them died, with the most recent suspected fentanyl-caused fatality happening in late May.

On Friday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown met with KSBY for an exclusive interview on the matter.

“It just goes to show you how insidious it really is. That even here, the most secure facility in the county, we still have a problem with fentanyl,” Sheriff Brown said.

He explained that despite the jail’s use of a contraband-detecting body scanner and a drug-sniffing dog, somehow, illegal substances continue finding their way inside the jail.
“It could be something that was swallowed and is internal in them, like a balloon or a condom that is filled with some type of drugs,” he added.

Sheriff Brown says their body scanner allows the county’s jail deputies to detect obvious signs of contraband being smuggled into the jail, but he admits that fentanyl, in particular, presents additional challenges.

“It is so powerful, and such a small dose of it can be lethal, so it is very difficult to find that dose sometimes,” Sheriff Brown explained.

Understanding that not every substance will be found through their inmate screenings, Sheriff Brown says education and training are their most valuable preventative measures.

“There are some new and emerging technologies that we are looking at, but what it really boils down to is that the most effective means to combat this is through the vigilance and training of our custody staff to suspect that something maybe is up and somebody is either bringing something in or something has been brought in and secreted in the jail,” he explained.

Meanwhile, just weeks ago, two Santa Barbara County men were federally indicted for bringing in and distributing fentanyl when they were booked into the Northern Branch Jail, resulting in multiple overdoses and one death.

Sheriff Bill Brown adds that if the men are found guilty, they could face a minimum of 20 years in prison.
“If you are going to sell fentanyl on the street, if you are going to bring it into the jail, if what you are doing causes great bodily injury or death of another person, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Sheriff Brown stated. “We want this message to go far and wide in the community that this will not be tolerated.”

He says there is no indication that illegal substances have been brought in by the department’s jail staff, adding that an investigation surrounding the facility’s commissary workers who were banned last winter is still ongoing.

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