Dozens of staff members at an Ohio prison were hospitalized Wednesday after being exposed to a mixture of heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Officials with the Ohio State Highway Patrol confirmed Thursday the presence of fentanyl in the drugs found at Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe. The incident unfolded Wednesday morning after nurses and correctional officers responded to the cell of an inmate who began to exhibit signs of an opioid overdose, reports NBC News.
The apparent overdose exposed 23 prison guards and four nurses to fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. The workers and inmates were taken to the Adena Regional Medical Center, where doctors administered doses of the opioid reversal drug naloxone.
Officials said the threat is contained and all affected are successfully recovering. (RELATED: Portman Says ‘The President Is Waiting, Pen In Hand’ For Opioid Bill Targeting Fentanyl Trafficking)
Five workers at the Albion State Correctional Institution in Erie County, Pennsylvania, became sick in a similar incident Wednesday morning after being exposed to an unknown powder, along with two workers at the Somerset State Correctional facility in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
All seven workers were taken to local hospitals for treatment. Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel issued an indefinite lockdown order Wednesday for all state prisons as authorities investigate the incidents.
“The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern,” said Wetzel, according to NBC News. “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.”
Fentanyl is blamed as the primary fuel of the current opioid epidemic ravaging the country. Only 2 milligrams of the synthetic opioid can cause an adult to suffer a fatal overdose.
The substance is causing drug overdose deaths to surge to record-breaking levels across Pennsylvania. Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released data Aug. 21 showing drug overdose deaths increased by 17.5 percent in Pennsylvania in 2017, claiming 5,456 lives. Roughly 42 per 100,000 people throughout the state die from a drug overdose.
An estimated 67 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the state involved fentanyl or chemical variants of the substance. DEA officials said there is “a persistent and pervasive drug threat in Pennsylvania.”
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Officials say preliminary data shows drug overdoses killed roughly 72,000 people across the U.S. in 2017.
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