THE BRONX (WABC) -- A New York City Correction Officer was rushed to the hospital after being exposed to fentanyl while sorting mail for inmates. It comes just weeks after a New York State Trooper was exposed to fentanyl while on the job this month on Long Island.
On Friday night while sorting mail in the Bronx, the officer's hands went numb despite wearing gloves. Workers administered Narcan, a drug used to help reverse an overdose, and sent her to the hospital. She was treated and released.
As 7 On Your Side Investigates first uncovered earlier this month, people are sending inmates fentanyl-laced letters and books. Once the mail arrives, the inmate rips off pieces of the paper and sells to other inmates. It's then smoked or chewed to get high.
Officers have confiscated everything from children's drawings to love letters, to entire books sent to the jail laced with the synthetic opioid.
During a recent city hearing, the Department of Correction Commissioner said it's a growing problem.
"Books are for reading, not for being laced with fentanyl," said Commissioner Louis Molina. "We are exploring all measures to keep fentanyl and all drugs out of our facilities," he said.
The Department of Correction's solution is to have all the inmate mail electronically scanned before entering the building and for inmates to view the mail on electronic tablets.
Some city commissioners, including the chair of the city's criminal justice committee, are against the plan.
"We want to make sure that one, it's accessible and affordable," said Council Member Carlina Rivera. "And two, that we're not removing one of I think the most human elements that is tangible mail that comes in from your family member," she said.
Rivera believes there should be a universal way of physically scanning visitors and workers who enter jail buildings.
Last year, 56 visitors were caught bringing in drugs, along with two correction officers.
"People that are entering the island, there is discretion as to who gets scanned and who is looked at in terms of bringing in contraband and so if there is a universal system for scanning, we could really get to the root of the problem," said Rivera.
But after the worker was exposed this weekend, the Commissioner and the union representing the officers said its one more example of why the city should move forward with the scanning process.
In a statement, Commissioner Molina said "The health and safety of our officers is our top priority. This dangerous incident reinforces the importance of digitizing our mail processes, like over 140 other correctional facilities across the country, including New York State. We must use all tools and strategies available to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our jails, including expanding the use of body scanners, increasing the use and enhancing the abilities of our Canines to detect fentanyl. I will not allow outsiders opposed to these and other sound correctional practices to impede me from keeping staff and detainees safe."
The COBA President Benny Boscio said, "We need more protections to safeguard our members and switching to paperless mail should be implemented immediately."
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