On Lockdown

September 4, 2018

Attached are findings of a brief and preliminary review of incidents that have led to the lockdown of all State Prisons in Pennsylvania. While the DOC plans on spending thousands of dollars on full body scanners to be used on individuals who are returning from the prison visiting hall back to their units, and mail scanners to manage prisoner mail, there has been scant evidence that any of the so called “unknown substances” has been brought into the prison in this manner. It is not clear that Officers were
following protocols for safety and protection when managing the mail that would have curtailed possible contamination for these substances, most of which were NOT determined to be either fentanyl or synthetic cannabinoids. Instead, the Governor is simply following the pleadings coming from the Officer’s union and perhaps, the DOC as well, without doing his fiduciary homework. And in the meantime, 45,000 incarcerated men and women are being locked down in their cells, for the better part
of 24 hours a day, simply based on broad-based assumptions and unsubstantiated claims; thousands of tax-payer dollars are going to be spent needlessly; and, no one is necessarily safer. Drugs have been coming into prisons for decades; sometimes facilitated by those incarcerated, sometimes outsiders, sometimes prison staff, and sometimes it is a coordinated effort! Use of opioids like Fentanyl is increasing in our communities and the risks are high. Since 2015, the CDC and the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, along with Office National Drug Policy, released recommendations as to how to prevent the risk of fentanyl [and like substances] contamination to first responders, including police officers and health care staff, and like personnel. It is not clear that those measures were either put into place in our State Prisons or if so, those measures were being followed by
staff. Allegations of contamination of synthetic cannabinoids by skin contact has not been found to produce the symptoms the officers have claimed. Instead, without closer examination, the knee-jerk response has been “fix it”. How can something be fixed when it is not clear what is broken and where those breaks occur? Governor Wolf and the DOC are jumping the horse before the cart. In most complex organizations, where there are symptoms of a breakdown causing critical incidents to occur, a prescribed root cause
analysis is conducted in a prescribed fashion. The comprehensive and exhaustive analysis becomes the tool whereby explanations can be discovered and recommendations for improvement can be articulated, producing a plan that aims to reduce or eliminate the causes. So, now that the “fix is in–what is it that actually needs fixing???
Elaine G. Selan, RN, MSN
7848 Nixon Street, Philadelphia PA 19128 H [215]483-3345 M [267] 254-4016

Lockdown Debacle – Some Findings
Elaine G. Selan, RN, MSN


1. There is no evidence that dermal [skin] contact with synthetic cannabinoids will cause
any adverse effects.

2. Fentanyl can be administrated via transdermal patch [similar to how a smoking
cessation patch is used]; however, clandestine labs make fentanyl in various
combinations, including a powder compound. In 2015 the DEA released warnings to law
as fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and accidental inhalation of
airborne powder can also occur. DEA was [and continues to be] concerned about
law enforcement coming in contact with fentanyl on the streets during the
course of enforcement, such as a buy-walk, or buy-bust operation. Such contact
can be minimized and/or avoided by following prescribed guidelines written by
the Centers for Disease Control and Protection [CDC] and the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH]; in part,

A. Following gloving and more stringent PPE procedures.
B. Quickly washing hands and face; changing clothes immediately
C. Avoid performing tasks that would aerosolize substance.
D. Avoid using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

3. In studies of occupational exposure to fentanyl, following the prescribed steps
will help to prevent contamination and/or minimize risks. See NIOSH Health
Hazard Evaluation Program, “Evaluation of New Hampshire Law Enforcement
Officer’s Unintentional Occupational Exposure to Illicit Drugs,” published August,
2018*. Similar findings were identified in other reports.

4. Office of National Drug Control Policy developed Fentanyl Safety Recommendations for First Responders. These recommendations are a result of an interagency working
group, comprised of many governmental agencies and departments. Recommendations
can be found here.

Log Review Summary

1. The log does not indicate if officers were following protective procedures [i.e.,
glove use] at the time when symptoms appeared.

2. Only one instance where fentanyl was found per lab testing on 6/3, well before
August cases.

3. Evidence of synthetic cannabinoids would not cause associated symptoms found
in several of the incidents.

4. A number of incidents do not indicate exposure to any substance [8/29-
Somerset; 8/31 – Somerset [2 incidents]; 8/30 – Greene; 9/1 – Greene].

Other specific findings:


1. 8/30 incident involving 5 CO’s at Somerset; lab test results are needed to help
determine causality.

2. 8/15 incident [Greene] where same officer experienced similar symptoms as on
8/13; this may be caused by an on-going medical problem [i.e., hypertension]

3. 8/13 incident [Greene] – synthetic cannabinoid or Muslim Oil would not cause
identified officer symptoms.

4. 8/13 incident [Mercer] – exposure would have occurred while handling legal
paperwork, symptoms appearing immediately. If symptoms occurred after
copying completed [as indicated on log], this would not be likely associated with
an “unknown substance.”

5. 8/10 incident [Fayette] – were all 4 officers following DOC procedures?


Other Points for Consideration:

1. Did the DOC put into place safety/protective recommendations that have been
established three years ago by the CDC and NIOSH?

2. How is the DOC measuring compliance with established procedures?

3. What was the review process for each of these incidents to find them creditable,
or not?

4. Lab test results not listed in many of the incidents – does this mean they were
not done or results pending?

5. The knee-jerk reaction by the Wolf Administration and the DOC indicate possible
omissions in their policies and procedures that would have safe guarded their

6. Are there any records that other prison staff, incarcerated men/women have
been similarly affected with symptoms? Visitors/Volunteers?

7. What info, if any, has been sent to the DOH?
*NIOSH [2018]. Evaluation of a New Hampshire law enforcement officer’s unintentional
occupational exposure to illicit drugs. By Chiu S, Hornsby-Myers J, Trout D. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Health Hazard Evaluation Report 2018-0132-3322,

CDC: Emergency Preparedness and Response. Health Safety Alert: Fentanyl
DEA: Issues Nationwide Fentanyl Alert
National Drug Early Warning System [NDEWS]: Special Report: Fentanyl and Fentanyl AnalogsNIOSH: Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Fentanyl. Health Hazard Evaluation ReportsOffice of National Drug Control Policy PA Department of Corrections [DOC]



%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close