The Arizona Republic reports seven inmates in the past two years have died from drug overdoses.
The state Department of Corrections has called the deaths accidental.
Officers at most of the prisons have failed to properly search staff and visitors, according to a department report done a year after three inmates mounted a 2010 escape.
The DOC says it has improved security procedures since then.
In May, a multi-agency investigation, in which the DOC participated, dismantled a drug ring connected to a state prison. The operation resulted in 44 arrests and the seizure of 32 pounds of heroin and 5 pounds of cocaine. A spokesman for the Arizona attorney general said the ring was run by three brothers. All of the siblings were incarcerated.
Corrections director Charles Ryan said drugs and other contraband can be transported through visitors, incoming mail, off-site inmate work crews and staff. Ryan said prison visitors seem to be the primary source of drugs.
"We have visitors who may secrete contraband in a body cavity, and then pass it to an inmate who will secrete it in his body cavity," Ryan said.
Corrections officers also use drug- and cellphone-detection dogs to try and combat this.
"We also search visitors through a screening device where a fan blows across the visitor, the dog sits on other side of a wire-mesh fence, and the dog will alert if there is contraband," Ryan said.
Internal records for May obtained by The Republic, however, show correctional officers discovered drugs, syringes and contraband cellphones nearly every day. The reports describe incidents where inmates were
frequently caught flushing objects down the toilet during cell searches.
State records show only one in 13 inmates with substance-abuse problems received treatment last year. Meanwhile, three-quarters of arriving inmates have had past problems with drug or alcohol abuse. Inmates
receive treatment as they approach the end of their sentence, according to a Department of Corrections spokesman.
Cynthia Krakoff's son, Carlo, died of a heroin overdose July 31, 2011, only 15 months into a 13-year sentence for robbery in Tucson. Krakoff said her son became addicted to Oxycontin. She said his death inside
the prison left her in shock.
"Nobody ever told me he could die in prison of illegal drugs," she said. "If they can't clean up the prisons, they need to find a different way to treat the drug addicts."