More than 150 California inmates have died of drug overdoses since 2006, with a high of 24 in 2013. Moreover, the sharing of intravenous needles often spreads hepatitis C infections, which killed 69 inmates in 2013.

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VACAVILLE, Calif. — State inmates are dying of drug overdoses at nearly triple the national rate and it’s unclear whether efforts to stop illicit drugs from getting into prisons are having any effect and they are spurring criticism from civil-rights advocates.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is spending $8 million this year on drug-detecting scanners and different breeds of drug-sniffing dogs while also employing strip searches on visitors in question.

Corrections officials think the stepped-up efforts are discouraging smuggling, but the figures available so far don’t support that — more than 6,000 scans have been done at 11 prisons since December without finding anyone with drugs.

Meantime, criticism is mounting about false-positive results by the scanners and dogs that can lead to strip-searches.

“It’s a humiliating process, can be easily used to humiliate and demean people, and was only for visitors, often women,” said Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock.

More than 150 California inmates have died of drug overdoses since 2006, with a high of 24 in 2013. Moreover, the sharing of intravenous needles often spreads hepatitis C infections, which killed 69 inmates in 2013.

Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard recently told lawmakers that drugs are “rampant in the prisons.”

Beard is modeling California’s new procedures on those used successfully in the Pennsylvania corrections department he led for a decade. While California has a long-term annual rate of eight drug- or alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 inmates, Pennsylvania’s is one.

Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and Texas also each averaged one death a year per 100,000 inmates from 2001-2012. Maryland had the nation’s worst rate, at 17 deaths per 100,000 inmates.

Beard says ion scanners — similar to those used to screen airport travelers — are deterring smugglers.

Records show German shepherds long used in California prisons have been effective at rooting out hidden drugs. But to search visitors, employees and inmates the department is turning to less aggressive dogs, including Labrador retrievers, Northern California canine-program coordinator Sgt. Brian Pyle said.

The decision to use dogs prompted the resignation last fall of Wayne Conrad, the department’s statewide canine-program coordinator. He criticized the expense of sending California dog handlers to Pennsylvania for training, the use of breeds that he said are less reliable, and what he said was a supervisor’s effort to stifle concerns because the program was championed by Beard.

“The dogs are going to start alerting on people whose kids are smoking dope or something,” and that false positive could prompt an unnecessary strip search, Conrad said. “The next thing that’s going to come is the lawsuits.”

Beard downplayed the possibility that false-positive alerts unfairly implicate innocent visitors and employees. But that’s what happened to Tania Gamboa, of Riverside, when she went to see her brother at Kern Valley State Prison.

She initially laughed when the ion machine tested positive for exposure to heroin, saying she doesn’t even drink alcohol. But she was crying after she was required to strip naked in front of two female correctional officers and squat to demonstrate that she was not concealing drugs.

Mohamed Shehk, an Oakland-based spokesman for Critical Resistance, which advocates for better conditions for inmates, said the policies are turning visitors into suspects.

“The statistics — $8 million, 6,000 scans and nothing to show for it — show that these are intended to intimidate and criminalize people who are going to see their loved ones inside,” he said.