Tess Owen, writing for VICE News:
All 25 of Pennsylvania’s state prisons are indefinitely on lockdown after nearly 30 employees became ill following exposure to an mysterious narcotic substance in the last month, officials said. [...]
Most of the employees have since been cleared to return to work, and toxicology reports from the state police lab are just now trickling back in. One report from a patient who got sick on Aug. 13 had come into contact with a synthetic cannabinoid, also known as K2 or spice, according to Susan McNaughton, communications director for Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
But officials say the employees hadn’t actually consumed the drug. “Starting a few weeks ago, we saw an uptick in employees who were feeling sickened after touching inmates' property or escorting inmates,” said McNaughton. [...]
“It’s very unlikely that someone would touch a piece of paper with their hand and absorb any clinically significant amount of synthetic cannabinoid,” said Mark Neavyn, director of the fellowship in medical toxicology at the University of Massachusetts. “Unless the law enforcement officer was sucking on the piece of paper, I highly doubt it.”
I haven't ever heard of anyone getting high by placing synthetic cannabinoids onto their skin, but some psychoactive research chemicals are capable of being absorbed topically. So maybe there's something to this after all.
However, cops have also been claiming recently that they're overdosing (and dying) from accidentally touching fentanyl, which is impossible. It's certainly plausible that these officers in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) are really just intentionally experimenting with the drugs they confiscate.