Smuggled heroin results in inmate overdoses in Macon County jail 


Brittney Lofthouse — Staff Writer

Detention officers at the Macon County Detention Center responded to a report of an overdose in the jail late last month after finding two inmates unresponsive. After an investigation of the incident, it was determined that two inmates had overdosed on heroin that had been smuggled into the detention center by James Douglas Steele, 44,  after he was arrested on drug trafficking charges. 

“The inmate was able to smuggle the drugs into the detention center by either ‘suitcasing’  the substance up his rectum or by swallowing the packaged drugs prior to entering the jail and then was able to retrieve the drugs after he passed it in his bowels,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. 

Steele then began distributing the drugs to other inmates. Although Steele denies that he provided the drugs to other individuals, including the inmates who overdosed, surveillance videos in the jail captured the transactions. 

Emergency personnel was dispatched to the detention center to render aid to the two victims who suffered apparent overdoses. Both inmates were treated for the overdose and released back into custody.  Narcan was used to revive the inmates.

Steele was initially charged as part of the undercover investigation “Operation JAWbreaker” for drug trafficking and now faces additional charges of possession of heroin, possession of a controlled substance in prison/jail premises and delivering heroin, all felony charges. 

The incident prompted one inmate to write a letter to the newspaper noting how serious the drug epidemic is in Macon County. 

“I personally think the community needs to know just how pervasive the opioid epidemic has grown,” wrote the inmate. “Just two days ago, two male inmates in the adjoining dorm overdosed on alleged heroin. They were seen being brought out on stretchers by local EMS/police, blue in the face, being pumped oxygen through facemasks.” 

The inmate who wrote the letter also mentioned that the day prior to overdose incident, the entire jail was locked down and detention officers conducted a full search of the facility in search of contraband. Macon County Sheriff’s Office Incident reports reveal that Steele was strip-searched prior to booking, but detention officers were unable to locate any smuggled heroin.