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Billings prerelease death in August attributed to drug overdose

Billings prerelease death in August attributed to drug overdose

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Alpha House

Alpha House in downtown Billings is pictured Tuesday, July 7.

The 25-year-old man who died in August while in custody at a Billings prerelease center was killed by an overdose. 

The cause of death for Rafael Gneiting was fentanyl and mitragynine intoxication, Deputy Yellowstone County Coroner Rich Hoffman said Wednesday. Mitragynine is a compound in kratom, a legal drug that can have psychotropic effects. 

An autopsy was conducted in August, but toxicology results took longer to return. 

Gneiting's mother, Angela Gneiting, said her son had recently completed a 10-month program at NEXUS Treatment Center in Lewistown. He'd been considering returning home to the Flathead Valley and was talking about a recovery plan and AA groups he'd need to connect with. 

"He just sounded more hopeful, you know? Like he had hope in his voice," Angela Gneiting said. "Addiction sucks, let me tell you." 

Angela Gneiting said she was told by law enforcement that the pills her son was found with were designed to look like oxycodone, a far less powerful opioid than fentanyl.

"So just put a warning out there, you know. These pills — they’re not what they think they are," Angela Gneiting said. "Be careful. And that there’s help out there if they want it."

The Billings prerelease center, Alpha House, is owned and operated by Alternatives Inc., a community corrections nonprofit. The Montana Department of Corrections contracts with Alternatives to provide prerelease programs. 

Since Gneiting's death, seven more people have died in Department of Corrections custody, including 71-year-old Robert Gonzalez, who died at the Montana State Prison Oct. 24 of "COVID-19 pneumonia," according to his death certificate. The department has not yet officially tied any deaths of individuals in its custody to COVID-19. In Gonzalez' case, the department said it would leave it to the Department of Public Health and Human Services to determine cause of death. Secondary causes of death listed on the death certificate for Gonzalez were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary artery disease. 

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