By Luther Turmelle

Six Cheshire Correctional Institution staffers were hospitalized Tuesday after becoming ill, according to the Department of Correction.

In a release, DOC Public Information Officer Andrius Banevicius said a corrections officer "in medical distress" was transported to the hospital at approximately 9 a.m., followed by a staffer in the facility's school system, another schoolteacher and three other correctional officers.

The incident initially was being treated as a possible exposure to the opioid fentanyl. Late Tuesday afternoon, Banevicius said all six DOC employees who were taken to area hospitals tested negative for exposure to fentanyl and were released.

The cause of the illnesses was not immediately determined, and is part of the ongoing investigation into the matter by the Department of Correction and Connecticut State Police, he said.

Earlier in the day, the Cheshire Fire Department tested the facility for excessive amounts of carbon monoxide in the air, and found no abnormal levels, Banevicius said. The facility remained on lockdown status as an environmental services contractor continued to clean portions of the facility, he said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook said he was glad that all of the staff members were out of the hospital.

"I cannot overstate how important the safety of our agency's staff is to me," Cook said in a  statement.

Neither Banevicius nor state police officials would release any specific details regarding what the corrections officers and prison staffers were doing at the time they became ill.

Rudy Demiraj, president of AFSCME Local 387, said the corrections officers and staffers were treated with Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, as a precaution when it was still believed that they had been exposed to fentanyl. The Southington-based local represents unionized employees at  Cheshire Correctional Institution.

Demiraj said the four corrections officers, the teacher and a school secretary all were in the same general area of the prison when they became ill.

While he was uncertain about the specific details surrounding the incident, Demiraj said corrections officers regularly have to deal with opioids that are smuggled into the prison.

"Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic is not limited to outside the prison and officers regularly have to search for contraband," he said.

No inmates were sickened as a result of the incident,  Banevicius said. The names of the staffers sickened are not being released due to health privacy laws, he  said.

(c)2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)