Whitley County sheriff among 20 exposed to opioid contamination and taken to hospital

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WHITNEY COUNTY, Ind. (WTHR) - An Indiana Sheriff is back at work after he and his guards were exposed to opioid contamination in the jail.

13 Investigates reported just a week ago how addicts are smuggling in opioids like fentanyl and putting workers in danger.

This time, the drug was heroin and the Whitley County Sheriff himself was taken to the E.R. Monday afternoon.

Sheriff Marc Gatton spoke to 13 Investigates reporter Sandra Chapman by phone Tuesday about the incident.

Gatton said he went to the jail intake area Monday around 12:30 p.m. after hearing a guard call for assistance.

There he was exposed to the drug after a 44-year old woman being booked in tried to swallow a white powder during a search. The powder spilled out and landed on the floor near an intake shower area and landed on some guards, causing skin and eye irritations. The woman told jail staff the powder was heroin mixed with another drug.

Gatton said he and his staff put towels over the heroin to try to keep it from getting into the air exchange system. Guards proceeded to wash the mix off the suspect to prevent her from overdosing before getting sprayed down themselves with a fire hose. Inmates being held in the area were also washed down.

"It was incredible to see your staff trying to save the life of an addict from overdose," Gatton told 13 Investigates.

Medics took about 20-people to the hospital including the Sheriff, the suspect, nine jail staff members and six inmates from the booking area. All were treated and released.

Gatton says he is now changing intake procedures at the Whitley County Jail. He says that will include masks and goggles for his staff and a larger supply of Narcan to help reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

Ultimately, Sheriff Gatton said he would like to purchase a body scanner to help detect hidden drugs.

The 44-year old woman from Chicago is also back behind bars.

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