DCYF Continues to Combat Opioid Epidemic in JR Facilities

February 16, 2024
Youth Sitting

To prevent the introduction of fentanyl and other substances into juvenile rehabilitation facilities, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is taking on a multi-pronged approach, including implementing body and bag scanners at entrances, conducting wellness checks for youth, and staff training.

The agency is getting better at intercepting and reducing the flow of drugs into facilities. The agency has conducted staff training on the opioid crisis and implemented an updated drug screening process that provides results within days compared to weeks. This update allows for a better assessment of danger and response to known problems. 

“As a country we are experiencing a fentanyl epidemic across our communities and in our prisons,” said Felice Upton, Assistant Secretary of Juvenile Rehabilitation. “This is not a unique to Washington State, correctional facilities across the country are dealing with these challenges on a daily basis.” 

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, 65% of people in prison have an active substance use disorder. Drugs that manage to get into facilities come in smaller packages, and often, the drugs that are introduced are more fatal. 

In response, DCYF has limited the amount and type of items people can bring into secure facilities. In living units, staff have increased room and area searches and are conducting more testing for controlled substances. 

Knowing education and prevention go hand-in-hand with interception, the agency has also increased treatment levels and options for young people with substance use disorders. Approximately 80% of youth and young adults served by JR have a known substance use disorder when they begin their sentence at DCYF facility, so the need for treatment is high. Many also have co-occurring behavioral health diagnoses. 

In 2021, 107,622 people died in the United States due to a drug overdose – an all-time high. 

DCYF hopes to combat this by providing staff and youth with training, so they recognize the signs of overdose and know how to administer Narcan, which is used to treat overdoses and often attributed to saving lives. In the last year, over 150 residents have been certified in CPR/first aid/Narcan administration.

DCYF has Narcan available in every living unit at secure facilities, as well as all JR community facilities across the state. Staff and youth are also trained in First Aid/CPR and conduct overdose and near fatality drills on a regular basis to prevent and respond to adverse health outcomes related to substance use. 

“My staff is diligently trying to find serious and sometimes fatal substances at our facilities to create a safe environment for our youth and do their part to prevent another death from this nationwide epidemic that is plaguing all correctional facilities,” Upton said.