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Inmate who died at La Plata County Jail had fentanyl in system

Despite drugs in blood, coroner rules cause of death is health related
An inmate who died while in custody at the La Plata County Jail had fentanyl in his system, according to an autopsy report. (Durango Herald file)

A Durango man who died while in custody at the La Plata County Jail had fentanyl in his blood at the time of death, according to an autopsy report and a forensic pathologist.

Despite the presence of fentanyl in his system, Daniel Foard, 32, died from acute peritonitis as a result of a perforated duodenal ulcer, which is a hole in his bowel that allowed an infection to form in his abdomen and pus to accumulate in the belly, said Mike Arnall, who performed the autopsy.

According to a toxicology report, Foard had 2.6 nanograms per milliliter of fentanyl in his blood. That is enough to potentially cause death, Arnall said, “although we frequently see levels much higher.”

The more concerning issue, from a health standpoint, was the duodenal ulcer, he said.

“Can a person die with a level of 2.6 (ng/ml)? The answer's yes,” Arnall said. “It was my sense that the greater problem was a belly full of pus. … As the surgeon would say, that’s a surgical problem with a surgical cure – meaning there's only one way you're going to cure that, and that's with surgery.”

Arnall said it takes an average of 35 hours for fentanyl to leave the bloodstream, but that can vary from person to person. Conservatively speaking, it can take up to 48 hours, he said.

Foard entered the jail on Aug. 11 on warrants, failure to appear and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, according to a jail supervisor. He was found unresponsive in his cell shortly after 9:30 p.m. Aug. 16 – five days after entering the jail – and was pronounced dead shortly before 1 a.m. Aug. 17.

Given the timeline, Arnall said he wonders how Foard was able to consume fentanyl while in jail. But he said that is outside his purview.

The answer does not change the fact that Foard died as a result of a personal health issue, not fentanyl use, he said.

The information obtained as part of the autopsy and toxicology report was given to law enforcement, and it is their obligation to use the information to help inform their investigation, Arnall said.

“Someone's got to ask a lot of questions,” he said.

The sheriff’s office deferred questions about the death to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which is overseeing the death investigation.

A spokeswoman for the CBI said the case remained under investigation as of Tuesday. She declined to comment further, including about possible fentanyl use in the jail and whether jail staff responded appropriately to Foard’s health needs.

“Hoping to present the case to the DA soon,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email to the Herald.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chris Burke said illegal drugs have been introduced into the jail in the past. The sheriff’s office tries to be proactive in preventing the introduction of contraband, including using a body scanner, he said.

The sheriff’s office also has an “amnesty box” that allows inmates to part with illegal substances prior to entering the jail to avoid additional charges should they be caught with the substances inside the jail.

“Anonymous items have been left in the container quite often,” Burke said.


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