UPPER MARLBORO — All visitation and mail to the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections has been suspended following staff and inmates in correctional facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania exhibiting signs of opioid exposure.
“We were getting reports of correctional officers and inmates in Ohio and Pennsylvania after they were exposed to some type of opioid,” said Andrew Cephas, public information officer for the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections.
“So we basically suspended visitation and inmate mail as a precautionary measure just to make sure we’re keeping our employees and their detainees here at the department of corrections safe.”
At this time, there will be no prison visits until further notice, mail will be accepted at facilities but will not be opened or distributed and the staff has been advised to use all provided protective equipment. Only legal mail and legal visits are being accepted at this time.
According to Cephas, the precautions will be in place at least until Sept. 4, but could go on longer as the department sees fit.
“We are taking precautions to ensure the safety and security of our employees and inmates,” Department Secretary Stephen T. Moyer said.
In Pennsylvania a staff member was sickened by an unknown substance meanwhile in Chillicothe, Ohio, 20 correctional officers and inmates suffered possible drug exposure.
No cases have been reported in Maryland yet but the state wants to make sure nothing happens.
“We just took a precautionary measure just to make sure we’re staying safe, and we’re monitoring situations around the nation just to make sure nothing else is ongoing,” Cephas said.
Opioid addiction has been steadily on the rise in Maryland over the past few years with fentanyl being the primary drug of choice.
Statewide, Maryland saw an opioid overdose increase of 58.9 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and between 2016 and 2017, fentanyl overdoses alone increased by 475 people, according to the Maryland Health Department’s most recent Unintentional Drug And Alcohol-Related Intoxication Death Report.
Prince George’s County was no exception, according to the Health Department’s report. In 2017, 124 people died of opioid overdose compared to only 27 in 2010. Through March of this year, there were already 18 total opioid deaths and 15 were fentanyl-related.
Governor Larry Hogan announced in June that the state has invested $40 million in new funding over the next year to fight the epidemic and a $1,975,085 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide reemployment services for those impacted.
Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous said that he plans to take a comprehensive approach to the crisis that includes having an office of pain management to guide doctors in their care and on-demand rehab for patients.
“We have hold companies accountable,” he said. “We have to make sure we give doctors the best advice possible and the alternatives to use and make sure they are aware of the consequences of doing the wrong thing with their patients. We also have to make sure that people are suffering the crisis of addiction that their lives get saved when they overdose so ultimately, when they get the rehabilitation help they need, not just to save their lives, they save their families and their communities.”
The Department of Corrections will continue to take their own steps to ensure that no drugs enter their facilities and affect their officers and inmates.
“Our employees who do handle the mail and everything, we make sure that they do wear protective gear as far as gloves and masks just to make sure they aren’t being exposed to anything,” Cephas said. “So we are going to keep those measures in place and we’re also going to be on an alert whenever there are any type of visitors.”