SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of bills targeting Utah's opioid crisis moved forward Tuesday at the Utah Legislature.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, is sponsoring HB410, which would create a work group to study alcohol and substance withdrawals within county jails and report the findings to the Legislature.
Moss said there are rising jail deaths across the country due to the opioid crisis, known as "dying from detox."
Madison Jensen had been fighting an opioid addiction when she died in the Duchesne County Jail from the effects of withdrawal in December 2016, Moss said. One nurse was criminally charged in the 21-year-old woman's death, and Jensen's father filed a federal lawsuit against Duchesne County.
Moss said Jensen didn't get any medical treatment and was found dead in her jail cell within four days after losing 17 pounds from the vomiting and diarrhea during her withdrawal. Moss said she saw Jensen's father on TV saying he didn't intend to send his daughter off to die.
"He thought that would be a safe place," she said. "But we know jails aren't really … the place for treatment of people who are addicted, but that's where a lot of them are ending up."
There were 24 deaths in county jail in Utah last year, Moss said. Instead of immediately implementing legislation, she says it would be better to study the issue first.Comment on this story
"Sadly, we're seeing a lot more people going to jail because of this opioid epidemic, and so I think … the jails need to be better prepared to handle these cases," Moss said.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, brought another bill before the committee that would increase the rate of reimbursement of county jails with which the state contracts from 89.5 percent to 91 percent for housing state inmates undergoing a treatment program.
"This is a program that goes along with what we're trying to do in justice reform in not just warehousing men and women but actually providing treatment to stop the revolving door of recidivism that goes on in the prison system," Noel said.