Drugs behind bars: Phoenix mothers want reform after their sons die from apparent overdoses in jail

Two inmates are expected to survive after an overdose at a Maricopa County jail, but not all are so lucky to survive.

The overdose by an unknown type of drug happened on Jan. 13 near 35th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road at the Lower Buckeye Jail.

The inmates, both men, were rushed to the hospital, but are back in their cells a day after treatment.

Although the kind of drug they reportedly used wasn't detailed by authorities, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone remarked on fentanyl being an issue in jails after recently revealing one of his detention officers tried to smuggle drugs inside one of them.

"If we truly want to be a drug-free safe jail system, we have to take every step possible and that means demanding that our employees become comfortable with the idea that we'd be checking them, too, as well as anyone else," Penzone said during a Jan. 11 press conference.

He wants to buy additional machines that will screen everyone who enters the buildings for contraband. There are already some in place for the inmates.

The mothers of two jailed men who lost their lives to drugs are sharing their stories to raise awareness of drugs not only in the streets but behind cell doors.

Debra Patten and Lisa Espinoza have something in common, and it's not the kind of group any mother wishes to be a part of.

"My son died while he was in Lewis prison on Aug. 31. The official was accidental overdose due to fentanyl intoxication," said Debra, the mother of Chris Patten. Lewis is one of 13 prison facilities run by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry.

"My son passed away in the Towers Jail. I don't have the results yet, but we have some kind of indication that it may be an overdose of fentanyl," said Lisa, the mother of Larry Ogle. Towers Jail is one of Maricopa County's six jails.

Larry passed away a week ago and although the toxicology report isn't back yet, she has a pretty good idea he suffered the same fate as Debra's son.

"I was told that they found him in his cell, foaming at the mouth," Lisa said.

It begs the question: How are inmates with monitored visitations getting drugs inside prison?

"Somehow, somebody slipped him a fentanyl pill while he was in prison," Debra said. "Which shouldn't happen."

Neither Debra nor Lisa are surprised by the news of the detention officer being arrested.

"I feel like my son was not properly checked on because of the time they found him deceased," Lisa said.

Debra says Lewis prison didn't even alert her that her son had died.

"It took another inmate getting ahold of us to let us know what happened," she said.

These women are now making it their mission to push for reform in the Arizona prison system.

"I don't want another family to go through what we did. I never realized I would be burying my son," Debra remarked.

Lisa adds, "We're just wanting justice and change. Not only for me but all of the others that have lost a loved one in the custody of the state."

Debra says she was told days after her son passed that the prison had to wait for the medical examiner's autopsy to be released before she was given an investigative report from the prison. The medical examiner's report came out within a month of the death confirming it was caused by fentanyl, and now four months later, the prison still has not given her the investigative report.

A GoFundMe has been set up for Larry and his family.