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‘They don’t need jail’: Family of man who died in custody from drug-related complications seeks solutions

Austin (KXAN) — A family in Florida is looking for answers after their son died in the Travis County Jail late last year. A 46-year-old man died of drug-related complications, according to the state’s death report.

Kyle Wagner was arrested and died in August 2022, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. His family says he was arrested for violating parole.

Documents show that Wagner introduced himself as a drug addict at check-in, so cancellation protocols were imposed on him and placed in the medical unit.

The next morning, Wagner was found unconscious. His cause of death was listed as accidental “toxic exposure to heroin”.

“He was our son. I mean, he wasn’t, he wasn’t the perfect person. I won’t lie about it. But he was my firstborn. And we really miss him,” said his father of the same name. “You know, these people need help. They don’t need jail.”

This help was not available to this family. The family did not have the money needed to help Wagner clean up before his arrest. They are on social security.

“It all cost $10,000 to take him away for 15 to 20 days,” his father said.

The Texas Addiction Professionals Association is pushing for the Texas Legislature to review the cost of treatment at this session. The organization’s president-elect says Medicare, Medicaid and government reimbursement don’t cover rehab costs.

“Test strips, opioid drugs that will prevent overdose. But we will not bridge the gap between keeping them from dying and getting them to these rehabilitation centers,” Joseph Gorordo said.

Without compensation, nonprofits cannot expand. Gorordo says that as a result, many places have to put people on waiting lists.

“Very often when we have people who are ready to ask for help, we have a very short period of readiness or someone calls and they are in a place where they are ready to receive help,” he said. “And when they are told, ‘OK, you need to call back every day for the next two weeks, and maybe we can get you.’ It’s a recipe for disaster.”

This means that people like Wagner are often left without affordable treatment options in Texas. In this case, despite landing in the medical unit of the prison, help came too late.

“I don’t want this to just be swept under the rug like another drug story,” said Regina Wagner, his mom.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Office was unable to comment on the Wagner case beyond what was previously released.

TAAP is advocating changes during the legislative session, which began on Tuesday. They are asking others to get involved and contact their legislators. You can find TAAP’s work on their website.

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