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Ellen Klepac
Ellen Klepac
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Inmate Dies from Improper Care of Alcohol Withdrawal

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The dangers and consequences of alcoholism are well-recognized and publicized. A lesser realized danger is going to jail and suffering from alcohol withdrawal. For Michael Reid, the consequences of improperly handled withdrawal were fatal.

According to insurancejournal.com, Reid’s family is suing prison nurse Jennifer McCune for physician negligence after Reid’s death at the Richland County jail in Mansfield, Ohio.

Reid was arrested in April 2009 for violating parole by drinking alcohol. At the time of his arrest, his blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit. Both Reid and his probation officers reportedly warned jail staff upon arriving that Reid had seizures when he stopped drinking, so he was taken to McCune.

Initially, McCune determined that Reid should be sent to a hospital. She later admitted him to the jail instead and instructed staff to give him medication if he displayed withdrawal symptoms.

Reid was placed in a concrete cell, and had a seizure hours after being admitted. However, he was never given medication. A blow to the head, which he suffered when he fell during the seizure, sent him to the hospital. Five days later, he was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support.

A federal judge determined that McCune’s status as a government employee did not give her immunity from being sued by Reid’s family for negligence and wrongful death. In fact, writes Amanda Lee Myers, the judge “found that she had acted recklessly and with deliberate indifference by placing Reid in a concrete cell knowing that he would go into alcohol withdrawal and that there were no medications in the jail at the time to treat him.”

CorrectionalNurse.net states that alcohol withdrawal “is the most dangerous type of substance withdrawal and the most prevalent.” The site urges people who work in jails to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and the proper way of handling an inmate displaying those symptoms. Because such a high percentage of inmates are reported to drink and/or abuse alcohol, the site also advises how to take care of inmates who go through a withdrawal. These suggestions include getting thorough reports of inmates’ alcoholic history, making sure the person is hydrated and provided with proper nutrition, and knowing when to consult medical personnel or send an inmate to the hospital for proper withdrawal treatment.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus lists symptoms of possible alcohol withdrawal that include:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Fatigue;
  • Irritability;
  • Jumpiness or shakiness;
  • Mood swings;
  • Nightmares;
  • Insomnia;
  • Rapid heart rate;
  • Confusion;
  • Hallucinations;
  • Fever; and
  • Seizures.