6 sickened Conn. prison employees test negative for exposure to fentanyl

The source of the illnesses is under investigation

By Josh Kovner and Zach Murdock
The Hartford Courant

CHESHIRE, Conn. — Six staff members at the Cheshire Correctional Institute, including four correction officers, were sickened and hospitalized Tuesday amid fears they were exposed to fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin.

All six later tested negative for exposure to fentanyl, however, so Department of Correction officials announced late Tuesday that they do not know what caused the illnesses after all.

“The cause of each of the staff illnesses has still yet to be determined, and is part of the Department of Correction’s and Connecticut State Police’s ongoing investigation into the matter,” Department of Correction spokesman Andrius Banevicius said.

All of the staff members were treated and released by Tuesday afternoon. The facility remained on lockdown late Tuesday while an environmental services contractor cleaned portions of the facility.

“I am glad that the staff members are out of the hospital,” Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook said. “I cannot overstate how important the safety of our agency’s staff is to me.”

The incident began at about 9 a.m. Tuesday when an ambulance was called to the facility “to transport a correction officer who was in medical distress,” Banevicius said.

An hour later, “a staff member from the facility’s school system also began feeling unwell,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, a school teacher and three additional correction officers reported feeling poorly.”

Officials initially believed exposure to fentanyl could have caused the illnesses and treated it as a hazardous materials incident. A state police hazmat team and personnel from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responded to the prison.

The Cheshire Fire Department also tested the facility for excessive amounts of carbon monoxide and found no abnormal levels, Banevicius said.

The illness appeared to be concentrated in the area of the school facility inside the prison, staff members said.

A teacher and another member of the prison’s school facility were also taken to the hospital in addition to the correction officers.

No offenders showed signs of illness, Banevicius said.

The six staff members were taken by ambulance to MidState Medical Center in Meriden or St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury. A number of other prison staff were moved to the DOC’s central office in Wethersfield.

Banevicius said “all of the affected staff members remained consciousness and alert.”

©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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