The battle against drug addiction continues in Pennsylvania, but now, the concern spans beyond anything state officials have dealt with before.
“Things are being mixed together. Things are being made. So we really don’t know what these substances are,” said Jennifer Smith, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
State leaders said on Thursday they have seen a major uptick in overdoses from synthetic drugs, namely K2.
“They are man made, they are chemical based. They are not organic. There is no legitimate medical use for these substances, so they do damage when they are ingested into the human body," said Joseph Sokolofski, director of the drug law enforcement division of the Pennsylvania State Police.
The Department of Corrections said K2 may be what is sickening prison employees.
DOC leaders say they have seen an increase in synthetic drugs making their way into the jail system over the last six months, and while they don’t have exact numbers, they say it seems to be more prevalent the last two weeks.
“We are seeing a large number of synthetic cannabinoids that have been saturated in paper, and are typically being brought in through the mail,” said William Nicklow, major with the Bureau of Investigations and Intelligence.
Without testing, they can’t be sure the drugs coming in are K2, but they are sure that whatever it is, is strong.
“When it comes into the facility, they only need a slight piece of that paper to get an overdose. Our staff is handing the whole piece of paper, so it’s going to be ingested that way. So it’s a big problem when a staff member touches that paper,” said James Barnacle, director of the Bureau of Investigations and Intelligence.
Right now, the mail facilities have been shut down, and mail is being tested to determine what exactly it is contaminated with.
“We’re gloving everybody up. We’re spending a lot of money on masks and other protection to keep the individuals safe and that’s why they’re locked down right now,” said Barnacle.
State leaders are urging people to take this as a lesson.
When someone is experiencing a drug overdose, you don’t know what they are on.
They say it is important for the public and first responders to wear protective equipment when interacting with an overdose patient so they, too, don’t fall sick.