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Mass Exposure In Chillicothe Highlights Prison Drug Epidemic

Neil Conway

This week, nearly 30 people were exposed to a fentanyl-heroin mixture at a Chillicothe prison. The incident lead to two dozen prison guards, nurses and an inmate being hospitalized. But the incident at Ross Correctional Institute did not stand alone.

In Pennsylvania, more than two dozen state prison employees were exposed to synthetic marijuana, and in Arkansas, five prisoners died this week after suspected ingestion of illicit drugs. 

Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association and corrections sergeant at the Lorain Correctional Institution, says narcotics in prison have always been an issue. But recently, he's seen an uptick.

"Over the last few years with the higher incarceration rates, I think that drugs inside the prison have become more prevalent," Mabe says.

In addition to higher populations, Mabe says that the opioid crisis and the advance of technology like drones have both contributed. Most contraband comes into institutions through that tech, visitors, or something as simple as an outsider throwing a package over a fence, he says.

"The amount of staff actually smuggling into institutions is really minimal. And that would be reflective in removals and resignations," Mabe says. "In the process, if our staff are getting caught, obviously they discipline and remove, and those numbers are easily trackable."

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction director Gary Mohr retired Friday, and Mabe hopes to talk with his successor, interim head Stuart Hudson, about solutions like more staff and education.

"A lot of our staff don't even know what the immediate effects of this type and capacity of drug are," Mabesays. "Identifying more rapidly, phyiscal inspection. What the physical effects are, so that we can maintain those levels down to a safer number."

Mohr did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mabe believes the most important thing is awareness of the problem. And that, he says, has been highlighted by the mass exposure at Ross.

"Much like alcoholism, you have to admit there's a problem before you can fix the problem," he says. "And we as a department, if we don't admit that there's a problem, than I don't think we can fix the problem. We have to be forthright, we have to be transparent, we have to work together."