Taking a proactive approach to the fentanyl crisis facing corrections

How KDOC’s Safety Division is training and equipping correctional personnel to safely respond to fentanyl-related incidents


By Rebecca Williams

In response to the ongoing opioid crisis and recent fentanyl exposure events within correctional systems around the country, the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) Safety Division formed a work group to aggressively develop and implement a suspected fentanyl/unknown hazard response plan.

It was the vision of the KDOC to get ahead of imminent staff and inmate exposure by providing training and protection for staff and inmates rather than reacting to an incident-driven situation.

Fentanyl response training for authorized responders includes proper donning and doffing of protective equipment in addition to safe evidence collection practical exercises. (Photo/KDOC)
Fentanyl response training for authorized responders includes proper donning and doffing of protective equipment in addition to safe evidence collection practical exercises. (Photo/KDOC)

Following the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommendations for training and personal protective equipment (PPE), this work group proactively developed and recently implemented a two-tier response program.

The first tier involves training all institutional staff in the hazards posed by fentanyl and its analogues. This training module includes information on:

  • What is fentanyl;
  • The forms fentanyl may take;
  • Fentanyl exposure routes;
  • Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose;
  • How to initiate the emergency response plan.

The second tier is a separate program for authorized responders within each institution to be equipped with PPE necessary to collect and test materials and decontaminate an area containing suspected fentanyl powder.

In relation to the second tier of the KDOC Fentanyl Response Program, KDOC also has plans to implement training on the administration of naloxone nasal spray and advance to using the American Heart Association’s Basic Life Support course in 2019. This training will equip staff with the necessary tools to save the lives of the offenders in their care and coworkers who may be inadvertently exposed to fentanyl. Each of the 12 KDOC Adult Institutions has been equipped with response kits to include:

  • Narcan nasal spray;
  • 3M Particulate Respirator, P100;
  • Nitrile disposable gloves (5 mil);
  • Ansell 2000 hooded and footed coverall (disposable);
  • Disposable safety goggles;
  • Bag-valve resuscitation mask.

The equipment list was implemented based on NIOSH recommendations. KDOC determined safety goggles are more effective at preventing exposure through the mucus membranes than safety glasses as they provide a seal around the eyes. The P100 is recommended by NIOSH due to the need to filter the greatest amount (99.97 percent) of airborne particulates, as opposed to only filtering 95 percent through use of the N95. Use of the bag-valve mask allows responders to conduct high-quality CPR.

Safety division activities

The development of the Fentanyl Response Program began within a few months of establishing a safety director position in March 2017. This program is comprised of research and information derived from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Center for Disease Control, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Kentucky Fire Commission, Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training.

During the course of this major undertaking, the Safety Division was also working to implement several other intensive programs to ensure staff safety including respiratory protection, blood borne pathogens protection and workplace violence prevention.

“I commend the Emergency Management and Safety Divisions for having the foresight to develop a proactive response to a severe threat to our staff,” said Commissioner James Erwin.

The establishment and support of the Safety Division is one of the many ways the Kentucky Department of Corrections executive leadership demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing of staff. This Department prides itself on proactive leadership. The Fentanyl Response Program and increased areas of training are prime examples thereof.

Future plans for the program include post-incident investigations and after-action reviews, as well as providing educational materials to the inmate population regarding the dangers they may face from an exposure. For more information about the KDOC Fentanyl Response Program, contact Safety Director Hannah Gibson.


About the author
Rebecca Williams is the program administrator with Kentucky Department of Corrections Emergency Management Division. She has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and has completed the Federal Emergency Management Association Professional Development Series. Williams is a Basic Bleeding Control Instructor with Stop the Bleed, a certified instructor with the American Heart Association and an Emergency Medical Responder. She plays an integral part in the research, development and implementation of the KDOC Fentanyl Response Program. She is a member of the Kentucky Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Kentucky Emergency Management Association. 

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