Dangerous D.C. Package May Redefine Prison Mailroom Protocols

WASHINGTON — An ordinary-looking package opened at a Washington, D.C., prison mailroom in March sent 16 corrections workers to the hospital, when what was thought to be the opioid pain medication fentanyl within the parcel turned out to be synthetic marijuana, according to WTOP, a local news outlet. Hazmat teams were called in to halt the incident after exposure to the mysterious substance sent said correctional workers to the medics, WTOP reported.

WTOP’s coverage said that fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine and can be lethal if it is even touched or inhaled. Drugs.com reports that fentanyl is used commercially as an anesthetic to relieve pain after surgery or for other medical procedures, and is classified as an opioid.

When queried by Correctional News on what steps, if any, the District of Columbia (D.C.) Department of Corrections has since undergone to remediate or head off synthetic marijuana or opioids getting into the prison system — or once again affecting the health of its guards and personnel — a spokesperson was hesitant to discuss any of the details.

“In order to maintain the safety of the facilities, the D.C. Department of Corrections cannot comment on the details of its security procedures,” DOC Spokeswoman Keena Blackmon said.  “The department remains vigilant in its detection and interception of attempts to introduce contraband into its secure environment.”

Bloomberg reported on the ever-increasing dangers of synthetic opioids as a worldwide pandemic, especially when imported from China. So potent is fentanyl that it is prescribed by the millionth of a gram. The street value of the drug is nearly beyond comprehension, with $3,800 worth of Chinese fentanyl selling for up to $30 million in the United States, Bloomberg found.  (This is compared with a kilo of cocaine, which accounts for profits of roughly $200,000 on U.S. street markets.)

In the wake of the drug-laced letter sent to the D.C. prison, mail service was temporarily halted, WTOP said.  No word on its intended recipient has been released.

Eric Althoff

Eric Althoff is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. In addition to Correctional News, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Napa Valley Register, The Washington Times, Luxe Getaways and elsewhere.

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