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What Is K2? Drug Believed To Be Sickening Prison Employees Explained By Addiction Expert

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- All 25 of Pennsylvania's state prisons remain on lockdown as they try to get a handle on synthetic drugs.

Specifically, something called K2, which is believed to have sickened more than two dozen prison employees.

K2 is a synthetic drug that's a clear, odorless liquid and is apparently being sprayed on letters mailed to inmates.

"They can rip up pieces of paper and smoke it, which is what I'm guessing they're probably doing, or they can ingest the paper," said Mitchell West, Medical Director at Allegheny Health Network's Addition Services.

But West says he can't quite figure out why so many prison employees are getting sick. More than 30 have been taken to the hospital in recent weeks.

Another SCI Somerset employee was sent to the hospital Friday morning. Officials say she approached a cell to speak with the inmates through a closed cell door and smelled a strong, sweet odor. The employee then began to feel a tingling sensation on her tongue and lips.

"I don't think they're making it up, but I don't understand how they're getting sick from it," West said.

He says eating or smoking paper soaked in K2 would definitely have an effect, but: "When the substance is dried on a piece of paper, it's not going to make you sick."

He says maybe if you encountered inmates smoking it, you could be affected.

"Conceivably. But I wouldn't expect that they'd be able to inhale enough smoke, if they weren't actively smoking it themselves, to get a level that would cause symptoms," West said.

A full dose can make users confused, anxious and paranoid, among other symptoms.

For now, there's no mail at state prisons, and employees are getting hazmat training.

During a press conference about synthetic drugs in Harrisburg Thursday, Jennifer Smith from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said K2 can be laced with almost anything.

"Things are being mixed together, things are being made," Smith said. "We don't know what these substances are, and so you really have to use extreme caution."

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