CHILLICOTHE, Ohio -- Doctors believe exposure to the drug fentanyl caused an illness to an inmate and 27 staffers at an Ohio prison Wednesday.
Officers, nurses and one inmate at the Ross Correctional Institution fell ill after exposure to “an unknown substance” Wednesday morning. The Ohio State Highway Patrol said troopers arrived on scene at about 9:10 a.m. A total of 28 people, including 23 correction officers, four nurses and an inmate were treated on scene and then driven to a hospital for evaluation. One inmate was treated at the scene and not taken to a hospital.
Adena Regional Medical Center officials said 24 patients arrived there at about 9:30 a.m.
Dr. Kirk Tucker, the chief clinical officer at Adena Regional Medical Center, said that the sickest patient, an inmate, arrived at the hospital unconscious and not breathing. The others had symptoms including nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, numbness in hands and feet and heaviness in arms and legs.
Fentanyl is "our best clinical guess" for what caused the symptoms, Tucker said. The drug is an opioid 50-100 times more potent than heroin.
Caregivers administered five doses of Narcan, Tucker said. But health officials delivered hundreds of doses in case they were needed.
Most of the patients were monitored for symptoms for a few hours and then released, according to Tucker. He said one patient has been admitted to the hospital for the night.
Tucker called the large exposure "a once-in-a-lifetime event." He estimated the hospital had more than 100 staffers available to help, thanks to their regular ER personnel and emergency staffers brought in from other parts of the hospital.
The fast response at the prison and emergency preparations at the hospital "probably saved a life or two," according to Tucker.
"This could have been a lot worse," he said.
About 31 inmates who were not affected were removed from the cellblock and moved to other secure areas in the prison, troopers said.
A hazardous material unit was cleaning affected areas of the prison, troopers said. Samples of the substance were collected for testing.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.