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Prison officials worried by high drug use, but Grafton prisons buck trend


COLUMBUS — Ohio prison officials are concerned with the relatively high percentage of inmates who tested positive for drugs last year, a newspaper reported Monday.

Annual drug testing in October by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found 3.32 percent testing positive. Most had used marijuana, but there were also positive results for opiates, cocaine and alcohol.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the rate is nearly twice as high in 2011, when 1.74 percent of those tested had drugs in their system. And it’s the highest rate in more than a decade.

A total of 6,828 inmates in 28 prisons in the state system were tested, with 227 testing positive. If the positive rate was expanded to cover the entire prison population of nearly 49,783, it would mean about 1,650 inmates were on drugs at any one time.

Locally, 226 inmates were tested at Grafton Correctional Institute during the annual cycle. Of those, one tested positive, according to JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the ODRC.

During the same test period in 2011, 231 inmates at Grafton were tested, with no positive tests for drugs or alcohol.

The one positive test in October was for benzodiazepine, a term given to a number of tranquilizers more commonly known and administered under the names Valium and Xanax.

At Lorain Correctional Institution, a total of 154 inmates were tested in October, with eight testing positive, according to Smith.

Half of the eight tested positive for THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive substance found in marijuana. The other four positive tests were for opiates, according to Smith.

In 2011, some 70 LCI inmates were tested, of whom none produced positive results for drugs.

Gary C. Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the percentage for the overall prison system is too high.

“That is too high and absolutely unacceptable as part of security of a prison,” Mohr said. “When we see an increase, it’s taken very seriously.”

Mohr said the 2012 statewide number is skewed somewhat because officials at one prison tested inmates they thought were more likely to be drug users rather than at random. That could have resulted in a higher positive result, he said.

That prison was Toledo Correctional Facility, Smith said.

“It’s important to note that the same facility that did 17 percent in October tested five percent in December, Smith said.

Random drug testing is done on five percent of a prison’s population each month, Smith noted.

“A much larger proportion of the population is tested in October,” she said.

Still, state prisons are taking further steps to keep drugs from coming in, according to Mohr.

Most of the drugs come in over the walls and fences, thrown into prison yards from the outside, said Todd Ishee, a corrections department regional director. People outside conceal drugs in soccer and tennis balls, clumps of dirt or other things and toss them into the yards. Cell phones, which are also prohibited, often come into prisons the same way.

Prison officials are taking steps to combat it, including installation of more lights, cameras and motion detectors on fences; increasing perimeter patrols; clearing out nearby trees so that would-be smugglers can’t hide; and using drug-sniffing dogs.

Mohr acknowledged that some drugs are smuggled into prisons by corrections officers.

Since the state began random drug testing in the early 1990s, results ranged from a high of 6.9 percent in 1990 to a low of 0.82 percent in 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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