Prison Drug Crackdown

Investigator Heidi Laramie of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections shows the confiscated drug suboxone after a smuggling attempt at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord in 2017. 

The opioid epidemic has created an underground market inside the Orleans Parish jail for Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat addiction, according to court records related to the arrests of four jail deputies booked last year for spiriting the drug inside.

While the arrest tally doesn’t surprise advocates who say the illegal trade of Suboxone has become a regular occurrence in American jails and prisons, some argue that lockups like those in New Orleans should furnish the drug themselves.

That could prevent overdose deaths, which become more likely when a person's tolerance is lowered during incarceration, said Dr. Lee Michals, Tulane Medical School’s addiction and psychiatry fellowship director.

“Abruptly stopping it is a tough place to be, which creates the situation that someone is willing to pay whatever to have access to that,” said Michals, who also works as the Medical Director of NOLA Detox, a recovery clinic for narcotics addiction.

According to a June 2023 study from the University of California-Irvine, 14 states offer addiction treatment in jails and prisons that include the authorized use of Suboxone. Louisiana is not among them.

Kentucky is the southernmost state to allow use of the drug, the study found.

Part of the issue, Michals said, is that many corrections officials believe the use of Suboxone, a Schedule III controlled substance, is simply trading one opiate for another.

“It’s not seen as treatment,” he said. “Using Suboxone is not fully understood.”

The drug most often comes as a film strip, which dissolves under the tongue and is typically divided and sold in small amounts for at least $20, according to 2022 reporting by the Marshall Project.

Dozens of doses

The four officers accused of smuggling Suboxone into the Orleans Parish Justice Center accepted money in exchange, according to court records. One, Elexis Gardner, has been convicted.


Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson, pictured here on Oct. 17, 2023. 

A confidential informant told Sheriff Susan Hutson's Office that Gardner supplied Decarlo Carter, who is incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Justice Center, with Suboxone just before 11 p.m. June 1. Authorities found the contraband in his cell, investigators allege in documents filed in Criminal District Court.

Gardner admitted in a department interview that she brought Carter 15 packets of Suboxone film at 12mg a strip, and that she was paid $577 for the transaction. To complete the trade, she met Carter’s relative on Canal Street, police allege.

Authorities booked her with introduction of contraband, malfeasance in office, possession with intent to distribute suboxone and possession of a legend drug without a prescription. She pleaded guilty as charged and was issued a suspended 3-year sentence.

Carter was rebooked on the same charges as Gardner.

Maurice Fondren, also a former Sheriff’s Office guard, was jailed on six counts of malfeasance and six counts of introduction of contraband in May. He allegedly smuggled suboxone, tobacco and cannabinoid-soaked paper into the jail.

Fondren, known as “Mississippi,” admitted to Sheriff’s Office investigators that he met with street associates of jailed suspects on six separate occasions to get the drugs. He allegedly told investigators he was paid between $1,000 and $2,000 per delivery into the jail, court records show.

Jail deputies’ wages begin at $18 per hour, depending on experience and certifications.

Desteney Wells was charged with possession with intent to distribute Suboxone, malfeasance in office and conspiracy to introduce contraband into a penal facility. On Sept. 25, Wells admitted to internal affairs investigators that she accepted $300 from one jailed suspect in exchange for the drugs.

Though she hadn’t smuggled them yet, she said she’d planned to deliver a package of 26 individual doses of Suboxone for the money.

Ex-deputy Robert Simon admitted to internal affairs investigators that he’d received $6,500.

He’s accused of sneaking Suboxone into the jail at least 10 times. Simon was recently booked on suspicion of malfeasance in office, obstruction of justice, principal to aggravated second-degree battery and introducing contraband in prison.

Simon was also present for a Sept. 9 stabbing in the jail in which he allegedly knew that inmates had a weapon before anyone was hurt, according to court documents.

Every jail’s ‘biggest problem’

Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York police sergeant who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, called it a positive sign that Hutson’s office investigates cases of malfeasance and terminates officers accordingly.

Giacalone called misconduct by jailers every lockup’s “biggest problem.”

“We used to refer to it as going native,” he said. “Some people aren't cut out for this job, and they fall into the temptations.”

Hutson’s office provided the names and case status of the officers accused of misconduct in 2023. The office did not respond to additional requests for comment on those incidents.

Experts point to data showing that most people incarcerated in the United States have active substance use disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 65% of incarcerated people suffer with addiction. Another 20% are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their alleged crimes, the institute said.

The New Orleans area has seen a surge in opioid deaths in recent years, particularly those tied to fentanyl. More than 1,000 people have died in the region each year since 2020 due to fatal overdoses, mostly including fentanyl use. 

Michals said that a standard dosage of Suboxone is 8 mg twice a day for a patient hoping to avoid withdrawal. He said the amounts smuggled into the Orleans Parish jail last year by deputies were enough for illegal trading.

Ideally, he said, Suboxone would be widely available as a recovery tool in jail. 

“If we’re able to bring Suboxone and other treatment options into the prison system, then it cuts off the need that can be exploited,” Michals said. “There’s a lot of goodwill... but it’s very hard to get in ... and be able to do it.”

Misconduct via battery

The four Orleans Parish deputies fired over deliveries of Suboxone were among seven accused of malfeasance last year.

Two former deputies, Charai Atkins and Tramaine Kirkland, were booked on counts of criminal conspiracy, simple assault, malfeasance in office and principal to simple battery, for allegedly soliciting an inmate's beating after police say he threw something at them in August.

Kirkland and Atkins told another inmate to beat the man up, according to court records. Kirkland also is accused of pepper-spraying him in retaliation.

Accusations against another jail deputy, Darianna Burton, weren’t immediately available. Her case remains under internal review.

Email Gabriella Killett at or follow her on Twitter, @GEKillett.