Geraldo Rivera calls ‘innovative’ drug rehabilitation program at Florida jail a 'real success’

Fox News correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera got an inside look at the opioid crisis with a visit to the Sarasota County Jail in Florida. Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday, in the second part of his series on addiction, Rivera called the “innovative program” at the jail to help inmates overcome their addictions “a real success.”

“The county now is calling these pill pushers, what they are, murderers,” Rivera said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including prescription opioids, which is nearly double the number of people who died from drug overdoses a decade before.

Rivera brought up a case in which a 41-year-old man from Florida, an overdose victim, became the first death that led to a murder conviction.

“We were able to prove that the defendant in this case provided our victim Carfentanil (a synthetic opioid),” said Detective Ben Lubrano with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

“And not only did he give him the drugs, that the victim overdosed in the defendant's car. That the defendant actually dumped the body here on the side of the road.”

When asked if more prosecutions like this can be expected Lubrano said, “It’s a message to all the drug dealers here, that if you’re going push these drugs on our society that we're going to take you to the full extent of the law.”

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“We're charging people (with) homicides for dealing them, who are killing people by dealing them. Someone needs to be held accountable,” Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said.

He added, “Looking at these guys, they all want help and we’re here to offer them help and help make them a better people.”

When asked if he fears that the inmates will resort to drugs once again when they are out of jail Knight answered, “No and we have success stories here to prove it.”

Rivera spoke with David Pruitt, a former inmate at the Sarasota County jail, who is considered a “success story.”

Pruitt, a former addict, told Rivera he has been arrested “a lot” but didn’t have an exact number. He added that he has been “clean and sober” for about six years and that he turned his life around in the Sarasota County jail.

Pruitt said he now has “a great career” and a family that loves him.

An inmate told Fox News that Pruitt’s story gives him “a sense of hope.”

“This program right here is making me not just be a better human being, but a better father, a better son, a better just everything," another inmate said.

“Being in the recovery pod has taught me that there is a solution and there are people out there willing to help you," a third inmate said.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Rivera said, “Sarasota really has an innovative approach with this pod program. Those pods, the units that are separated from the rest of the general population in the jail.”

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“What they do is they treat, they teach parenting skills and job skills and career placement.”

He added, “They have taken a recidivism rate that was 46 percent and they’ve reduced it to 13 percent among men and 6 percent recidivism among women. This is real success.”

Opioid drugs have long been used for end-of-life and post-surgery pain but starting in the 1990s, a new generation of the drugs was increasingly used to treat chronic pain. Sarasota is among more than 1,500 state and local governments fighting the opioid crisis by taking drug makers to court, asserting that the change was a major factor in a national opioid addiction and overdose crisis.

“They’ve got the lawsuits going against these soulless manufacturers who’ve made tens of billions of dollars but then at the retail level, at the grassroots level, they're (the Sarasota County Jail is) really helping these people patch their lives together,” Rivera said.

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“It is too common in our prison systems around the country to treat these drug offenders as criminals, to give them no slack that there is any disease involved here. They are treated like burglars, like murderers, like rapists and sometimes indeed they should be because they commit these other crimes."

"But generally speaking, most of the people in the pod are people whose crimes are drug-related, in the sense that they sell a nickel bag to get some for themselves or a dime bag. You know, they're small-timers. So Sarasota has now taken another look at their humanity and seeing what is salvageable and that’s all the difference,” Rivera said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.