Pa. prisons locked down after staffers sickened by unknown substances

Pa. prisons locked down after staffers sickened by unknown substances
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Prisons across Pennsylvania were locked down on Wednesday after 20 people were exposed to an unidentified opioid-based substances and experienced overdose symptoms at a prison in neighboring Ohio.

The decision by Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections comes after several of its own officers were sickened after exposure  to unknown substances in recent weeks.

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Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel noted in a news release that the incidents in his state largely occurred closer to the state's western border with Ohio. He instructed officers to take additional precautions to prevent further exposures.

“The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern,” Wetzel said. “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.”

Employees at Pennsylvania state prisons were instructed to wear gloves at all times and facilities including mail rooms have been locked down. Visits will be prohibited until the lockdown is lifted.

While it was unclear what sickened officers in Pennsylvania, Wetzel noted that the state's opioid abuse task force was providing support.

“We will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our staff,” Wetzel said. “The steps taken today, in addition to those announced last week, demonstrate the [Pennsylvania Gov. Tom] Wolf [D] Administration’s commitment to the safety and security of all commonwealth employees."

Nine officers in the state have been hospitalized or received medical treatment in some fashion across the state as a result of possible exposure to unknown substances in recent weeks, according to statements on the Department of Corrections website.

Wednesday's action follows an incident at an Ohio prison earlier in the day in which 15 officers, four nurses and an inmate suffered suspected opioid overdoses and were treated with Naloxone, a drug to counteract the symptoms of overdoses.