8 inmates at a San Diego County jail hospitalized after overdosing on fentanyl

George Bailey Detention Center
A file photo of George Bailey Detention Center in Otay Mesa in San Diego County.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Eight inmates overdosed on fentanyl at George Bailey Detention Facility in Otay Mesa, San Diego County sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.

Deputies and medical staff at the county jail administered the overdose-reversing drug naloxone late Tuesday to each of the inmates, according to sheriff’s Lt. Jack Reynolds.

All eight were taken to hospitals and were returned to the jail, Reynolds said in a statement.


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Sheriff’s officials offered no insight into how the drug made it into the jail, but highlighted the agency’s “multifaceted ... [and] comprehensive approach to keep illegal drugs from entering county jails.”

Those efforts include six X-ray body scanners and six drug-sniffing dogs, random searches of visitors, “no questions asked” drop boxes and equipment that can detect drugs sent through the mail, the Sheriff’s Department said.

The first of Tuesday’s overdoses was discovered about 7 p.m. Tuesday when deputies conducting a safety check in a housing unit found an inmate having difficulty breathing, Reynolds said. Deputies notified medical staff and administered naloxone, a nasal spray often referred to by the brand name Narcan.

As jail staff was treating the first inmate, three others were found having the same symptoms, Reynolds said. The staff also administered naloxone to them.

The four overdoses sparked an investigation, and about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, as deputies were searching sleeping areas for drugs and interviewing inmates about the overdoses, another inmate in a different housing unit was found unresponsive, Reynolds said. Jail staff performed CPR and gave him naloxone, then administered it to three more inmates who also began showing signs of drug intoxication.

Reynolds said in the statement that San Diego deputies were the first in the western United States to begin carrying the overdose-reversing nasal spray.

Authorities say fentanyl is often pressed into counterfeit pills that resemble common prescription drugs of abuse, such as oxycodone. Or it can be laced into other illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.


Just a tiny amount of fentanyl can be deadly. In San Diego County, fentanyl deaths increased from 151 in 2019 to more than 450 in 2020, when overdose deaths spiked amid the pandemic.

Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.