Dozens of correctional officers, nurses, and inmates at correctional institutions in Pennsylvania and Ohio have fallen ill by an unknown substance believed to be the highly potent opioid fentanyl.
Wednesday, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced an immediate lockdown of all state correctional institutions after receiving reports of multiple staff sickened in the past few weeks.
“Our state prisons, especially those in the western part of the state, have experienced recent incidents in which employees have been sickened and we need to get to the bottom of this issue now,” he said.
Wetzel ordered for an immediate lockdown of all Department of Corrections (DOC) state prisons, and closed all mailrooms to non-legal mail until further notice. All employees were also required to wear personal protective gear, especially gloves at all times. All employees at correctional institutions will receive training on situational awareness, and visitation has been suspended until the lockdown is lifted.
The announcement comes just hours after a similar major emergency response was reported at Ross Correctional Institute in Chillicothe, Ohio. The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported that at least 29 correctional officers, nurses, and inmates became sick by an unknown substance presumed to be fentanyl. Several of those sickened received doses of the opioid antidote Narcan. Nineteen were taken to a local hospital. All other ambulance traffic was rerouted temporarily to prevent accidental contamination.
The Ross Correctional Institute cleared the contaminated cell block and relocated inmates to other areas of the facility. A hazardous material decontamination team was called to clean up the area.
Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid used to treat patients in severe pain, such as those with cancer. The drug is 50 time more potent than heroin. If it becomes airborne, fentanyl can enter the body through the lungs, skin or eyes. Even a small amount can be lethal.