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Synthetic pot exposure sickened Pa. prison workers

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Associated Press

SOMERSET, Pa.

Pennsylvania officials say a substance that has sickened more than two dozen corrections employees in the past month and led to an ongoing statewide prison lockdown is believed to be a clear, odorless chemical known as synthetic marijuana.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Thursday the liquefied drug, also known as K2, is thought to be coming into facilities soaked into the paper of letters or books. Inmates then eat or smoke it. Synthetic marijuana refers to a class of chemicals that trigger responses in the brain receptors that also respond to the active ingredient in marijuana.

Wetzel told reporters at an unrelated event in Lawrenceville about the investigative findings hours before at least five more workers at two prisons required hospital treatment after falling ill.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said three workers at Somerset State Prison reported feeling sick Thursday night after catching inmates smoking something. Two others later became sick at Greene State Prison. Similar incidents have also occurred in recent weeks at the Albion, Benner, Rockview, Camp Hill, Houtzdale, Fayette and Mercer state prisons, and at the Butler County Prison.

The agency says at least 33 employees have been sickened, starting Aug. 6.