Inmate Who Died Last Year in Multnomah County Jail Had Consumed Fentanyl

The medical examiner ruled the 63-year-old man’s death to be “natural” due to the severity of his liver disease.

Multnomah County Justice Center. (Brian Burk)

An autopsy report obtained by WW shows that Stephen Murphy, an inmate at the Multnomah County Jail who died behind bars in July 2022, had significant concentrations of fentanyl in his blood.

Murphy had been booked in the jail four months earlier, meaning he almost certainly had consumed the fentanyl while in county custody. He was awaiting trial on federal drug charges.

Murphy also had serious liver disease and ultimately died of abdominal hemorrhaging, leading the medical examiner to rule his death to be of natural causes.

“Fentanyl was detected in postmortem toxicology. It does not appear that this was administered therapeutically. However, the contributions of this substance to death are likely minimal given the extent of the decedent’s liver disease and the volume of blood found in the peritoneal cavity,” wrote associate county medical examiner Sean Hurst.

Still, the drug concentration in his blood was 7.4 nanograms per milliliter. The concentration sufficient to rule a death an overdose when the patient has no other disease is 3 ng/mL, according to the Department of Homeland Security Chief Medical Examiner.

And the presence of fentanyl in Murphy’s blood over a year ago shows just how far back the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has known about the influx of fentanyl into its jails.

A partially chewed greeting card was found in Murphy’s cell that detectives speculated had been infused with smuggled drugs. (The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office could not immediately tell WW whether the card had been tested for illicit substances.)

Related: Multnomah County’s Dysfunctional Jails Have Turned Deadly

Following a string of six inmate deaths in county custody earlier this year, Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell instituted new strip search policies and additional training in how to use the county’s 3-year-old body scanner machines.

A top deputy told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners last month that the new training appeared to be working.

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