Since his early 20s, Jesse Jacobs suffered from debilitating panic attacks, depression, and general anxiety disorder. To treat his severe mental health issues, his psychiatrist prescribed him several medications, including Xanax.
The cocktail of meds helped Jacobs throughout his 20s, enabling him to eventually graduate college and begin a career. But when the 32-year-old gay man turned himself in to Texas’s Galveston County Jail earlier this year to serve a two-week sentence for driving while under the influence, he wasn’t allowed his prescription Xanax.
Even after he showed severe symptoms of withdrawal from the drug — for which he had a prescription from his psychiatrist — he still didn’t get his meds. Shortly after entering the jail, Jacobs began suffering seizures. In six days, he was dead.
Jacobs’s parents now want answers and are preparing to file a lawsuit against jail officials, and mental health experts are advocating for reform. Jacobs’s psychiatrist confirmed to the Houston Press that abruptly cutting off a Xanax regimen could result in deadly seizures.
After his first convulsion, jail nurses did not send Jacobs to a doctor; instead they gave him liquids and ammonia capsules. He was taken to a medical clinic after another seizure, then returned to the jail. After a third seizure he was taken to a hospital, where he died.
There are conflicting reports surrounding Jacobs’s condition right before his death, as police have given different versions. Some say medical personnel found him in his cell, unresponsive; another says he collapsed when he was being administered medication, though it was not his Xanax.
There is no disagreement that Jacobs was denied Xanax, but Galveston jail officials say the young man died of a non-drug-related seizure disorder, even though Jacobs himself told a nurse that he had no history of seizures before arriving at the jail.
“Most county jails have a formulary that they use to prescribe drugs, and almost [all] of them do not include Xanax,” Matt Simpson of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Texas affiliate told About magazine. “Jails often fail to identify with withdrawal symptoms, and it can be deadly. The sheriff has every right to intervene when there is a medical condition, and he should have before this young man’s cardiac arrest occurred.”
The Galveston County Jail was cited six years ago for “not dispensing medications as ordered by a doctor.”