$510K Inmate Meds?

County Jail Struggles with ‘Extraordinarily High’ Medical Bills for Single Inmate

Three doses a week of a medication to treat a Santa Barbara County Jail inmate’s life-threatening condition could very well take up the Sheriff Department’s entire budget for inmate medication, and then some. The department — which has endured severe cuts to its budget over the last several years — spends $450,000 annually to purchase meds for inmates. “When you put people in jail, there are standards we have to abide by,” said Sheriff spokesperson Drew Sugars. But the inmate in question could cost $510,000, given his very expensive needs.

County medical staff has changed the medication for the inmate and secured it at a reduced cost, but each dose still costs $2,700. “This is still extraordinarily high,” Sheriff Bill Brown wrote in a memo to County CEO Chandra Wallar. The sheriff is working with County Public Health and outside medicine manufacturers in an attempt to mitigate the dollar amount.

In his letter to Wallar, Brown said the man was arrested in February of this year and booked for serious violent criminal charges. The man is in custody, awaiting trial, but unable to post bail. Because of privacy laws, Sugars could not provide any information that would possibly identify the inmate, though Brown did say Tuesday the man faced attempted-murder charges. Sugars would not give his name, ailment, or whether the crimes were based out of North or South County.

The Sheriff’s Department has been in discussions with the District Attorney’s Office as well as the inmate’s defense attorney, and Sugars said both sides will “make every attempt to keep his criminal proceedings moving without delay.” The sheriff appeared in front of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to request that he be able to make a sole-source purchase — given the type of specialized medication needed — rather than taking it out to bid. He is not asking for an increase in funding at this point. “We’re taking it one dose at a time,” said Sugars.

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