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Allegheny County Jail officials suspect drugs smuggled in on paper made employees sick

October 2, 2018

Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper.

Allegheny County officials suspect that drugs smuggled into the jail sickened 11 employees over the Labor Day weekend, Warden Orlando Harper said Tuesday.

Contraband has been found and turned over to the county police for testing, Harper said.

Harper said the jail would remain on lockdown until he is certain the building is safe for inmates and visitors.

Inmates are being held in cells with no access to phones or attorneys in the pods, he said. They are receiving mail and can visit attorneys in rooms outside of the pods.

“Right now, allegedly, its synthetic drugs,” Harper said. “We don’t know for sure, but we’re going to look and find out exactly what it is.

“I can just say we suspect it to be some type of narcotic, but we’re not sure at this time.”

He could not provide a time frame for how long testing might take. Harper said the drug could be coming in on paper.

All of Pennsylvania’s 24 correctional institutions were locked down last week after more than a dozen employees at some of those locations became sick. Corrections officials believed the culprit was synthetic marijuana that may be coming into the facilities on paper. Inmates then eat the paper or smoke the paper.

County jail guards since last year have photocopied inmate mail and provided only the copies to inmates. Paperback books, magazines and newspapers must be sent to the jail directly from the publisher to avoid them being used as a vehicle for contraband, Harper said.

“Apparently, the inmates are receiving paper that could have liquid stained narcotics on the paper,” Harper said. “I’m just going to say that its suspected liquid narcotics on the paper.”

Nine jail guards and two members of the medical staff were sickened Sunday night in different areas of the jail. One guard was in the intake area and another was in the visiting area. Harper said they became sick after inhaling something. The employees, who reported elevated blood pressure and dizziness, were treated at a local hospital and released. All have returned to work.

Harper said he’s since had multiple communications with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials who are providing assistance.

“Our partners with the state have provided us a lot of educational documents so that we can educate our staff here,” he said. “We’ve also had telephone conference calls as to how we’re going to combat this issue. The state has been very instrumental in assisting us to combat this issue.”

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