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Michigan prisoner dies of suspected drug overdose

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Coldwater inmate was pronounced dead Sunday after a suspected drug overdose, a prison spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

Seth Zakora, 21, is suspected of having died from a powerful synthetic opiate called Suboxone, said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. The drug is used to treat opioid addiction, but Gautz said prison officials are investigating to see how the drug was smuggled into the facility and how officials could reduce smuggling and overdose deaths.

The deceased prisoner was serving up to 22 years at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater and had recently received a 24-month sentence extension in late December and been denied parole.

Both prison officials and the State Police are involved in investigations related to the incident, Gautz said.

“We’re reviewing any communications that any of the prisoners would have had, either through electronic messaging or through their phone calls,” he said.

State officials also are reviewing any videotapes and other material that could help pinpoint the source of the drug, which prison workers found in the cell of a different prisoner sent to the hospital due to a suspected drug overdose, Gautz said.

Officials can’t disclose the cause of death until the medical examiner completes a review, he said. But they suspect Suboxone may have been the cause, he said, adding that the drug is about the size of a post stamp, thin and easily smuggled in envelopes or letters.

“It definitely happens, and it’s something that our staff are diligent in protecting against every day of the year,” Gautz said. “Especially with Suboxone. It’s easier to try and attempt to smuggle in Suboxone than it is other drugs because it is so thin and small and can be hidden in a number of ways.”

Zakora was sentenced to 1 year and two months to 22 years and six months for second-degree criminal sexual conduct and a second three-year to 15-year sentence for third degree criminal sexual conduct. He received the first sentence in 2013 and the second in 2014, according to a Department of Corrections document.

Zakora was pronounced dead by a doctor on Sunday after emergency services were called to the scene.

Two other prisoners in the same housing unit at the Coldwater prison are suspected of having suffered overdoses and were sent to the hospital a day prior to Zakora’s death, Gautz said. One prisoner has since been released and sent back to prison. The other is still undergoing treatment.

Gautz said he could not release the other two prisoners’ names due to security protocol.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com