Prison staff in Pa., Ohio treated for exposure to drugs


HARRISBURG (AP) — Corrections authorities in Pennsylvania and Ohio on Wednesday investigated inmate and staff exposure to drugs and chemicals in what appeared to be unrelated incidents that nevertheless underscored the continuing issue of contraband drugs inside the nation’s prisons and jails.

In Pennsylvania, the state prisons were on a lockdown precipitated by 29 employees at 10 prisons requiring treatment in recent weeks from exposure to a yet-unidentified substance described in some cases as a liquid synthetic drug.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced the step Wednesday, the same day that about a half-dozen staff at Somerset and Albion state prisons reported feeling ill. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea and skin tingling.

In Ohio, prison guards, nurses and inmates were among the nearly 30 people treated for possible drug exposure inside Ross Correctional Institution. The incident began around 9 a.m. Wednesday when an inmate showed signs of a possible drug overdose, said patrol spokesman Lt. Robert Sellers.

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services responded by temporarily suspending visits at correctional institutions, even though no incidents had been reported in that state.

In Ohio, the contraband fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is suspected, possibly dispersed into the air by a fan, said Sellers, who emphasized investigators were still trying to determine exactly what happened.

Fentanyl is considered several times more powerful than heroin, and has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide, sometimes on its own, but often mixed with heroin. Law enforcement officers routinely now put on gloves when responding to overdoses to avoid possible exposure.