All of Pennsylvania’s state prisons have been locked down indefinitely on Wednesday afternoon due to a sudden and mysterious rash of illnesses among employees, officials announced.
At least 30 prison staff members have been taken ill due to “unknown substances” in recent weeks, the Department of Corrections said. In a statement announcing the lock down, officials suggested the illnesses were related to opioid poisoning or other illegal substances. The Pennsylvania Opioid Command Center is working with the Department of Corrections to investigate the illnesses.
“The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern,” Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement. “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.”
The lock down has several immediate consequences, the most notable and obvious of which is that all visits to state prisons are suspended.
In addition, all employees are required to use personal protective equipment – especially gloves – at all times.
All Department of Corrections mailrooms have also been closed to non-legal mail until further notice.
Opioids like the lethal carfentanil – an elephant tranquilizer than began appearing on the streets in Pennsylvania last year – can be lethal even upon touch. Symptoms of exposure to carfentanil include respiratory depression or arrest, drowsiness, disorientation, sedation, pinpoint pupils and clammy skin, according to health officials. Symptoms typically occur just minutes after exposure.
The situation is not contained to Pennsylvania. Wetzel added that the Ross Correctional Institution in Ohio has also had 20 staff members and inmates who were recently taken ill with similar symptoms.
This is a breaking story. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
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