November death of Michigan inmate, 37, was fentanyl overdose

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
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Ypsilanti — A 37-year-old inmate at Michigan's only prison for women died in November due to fentanyl toxicity, according to the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner's Office.

It was initially believed the inmate, Shameka Baker, had died from a medical issue, said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Shameka Baker

Months later, autopsy results identified the highly potent opioid as the culprit.

At the time of her Nov. 6 death, Baker was serving a sentence at the Women's Huron Valley Prison in Ypsilanti for receiving or concealing a stolen vehicle, according to corrections records.

Baker took a plea deal in Shiawassee County and was sentenced to 28 to 90 months; three misdemeanor charges were dismissed, court records show. Her earliest release date would have been in June.

It is not clear how Baker got the narcotics. Gautz said that both the department of corrections and Michigan State Police are investigating the circumstances of her death. 

From 2013-17, prescription opioids were linked to 5,261 deaths in Michigan, according to the health department's 2018 Statewide Opioid Assessment. 

In 2018, the last full year for which numbers are available, more than 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in Michigan. 

In 2000, Michigan had 183 fatal opioid overdoses, and 17, or 9%, were with synthetics such as fentanyl. But in 2018, when 2,036 people died of opioid overdoses, 1,556 of those deaths, or 76%, were from synthetics.

Within the Michigan prison system, suboxone is the drug of choice for inmates, Gautz told The News previously.

For the first 10 months of 2019, of the 699 drug seizures carried out in Michigan prisons, 459 of them, or about two-thirds, were for suboxone. Only twice was fentanyl seized, according to Corrections statistics.

As the opioid crisis has moved within the walls of Michigan's jails and its prison system, so too has the public health response. 

In 2018, there were 17,792 admissions to medication-assisted treatment programs in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Roughly 20% of them involved people still in the corrections system, whether inmates, people awaiting trial, people on parole or probation, or those who were in a diversion program that would result in dropped charges.

More:'First shot is free': Hundreds incarcerated in Michigan offered opioid blocker shots

Incarcerated people are "40 to 120 times more likely to die of an overdose within two weeks of release," according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's opioids task force, which was convened last year to cut opioid deaths in half in Michigan within five years. 

More:Whitmer aims to cut opioid-related deaths 50%

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