Glenside Hospital, Illicit Drugs

01 May 2008 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about drug dealing outside our mental health facilities.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Honourable members may be aware of the issue that I raised recently in that, on the first weekend in April, a number of patients, particularly in the rural and remote unit at Glenside, had levels of THC and amphetamines in their system. Since that has been made public, I have been contacted and advised that a number of patients have complained to staff at the Margaret Tobin Centre that, at the entrance of the centre, they are often approached by people offering them illicit drugs. Will the minister undertake to investigate security arrangements and bring back a report to the parliament on this important matter?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:25): I thank the honourable member for her question. I have heard her make this statement on a number of occasions—

The Hon. B.V. Finnigan interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Yes, that as well. Up to nine patients, some in the rural and remote ward—this is what I believe her to have said—had become extremely disruptive because of the inpatients providing them with cannabis and amphetamines. I have already gone on record to say that I have been advised that no incident occurred where a number of clients became extremely disruptive due to cannabis or amphetamine use in the rural and remote ward during the time that the member indicated. That is the advice I have received. I challenge the honourable member to bring forward specific details so that we can follow things up. Countless times members have come in here with inaccurate and badly informed material.

Members interjecting:


The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Members opposite regularly come in here with inaccurate information, innuendo and supposition. These things cause ongoing grief to clients and families using these facilities. I have, many times, invited members of this chamber (or the other), if they have any issues or concerns, to bring them forward to me or my officers and they will be investigated immediately. On each occasion when that has occurred—and the honourable members know who they are—I have honoured that agreement every single time. The member waxed lyrical on radio about these incidents but has not approached me with any specific details. I have tried to glean from the transcripts of the radio program what on earth she is talking about. I have asked the department for information, based on those radio transcripts, and they have advised me that no such incident occurred.

The rural and remote ward at Glenside is an acute inpatient unit which cares for clients of high acuity, with complex mental health issues. It is normal practice on admission to rural and remote to do a drug screen. It is not unusual to have clients test positive to THC or other illicit drugs upon admission. Some clients test positive during the admission process and throughout the admission. Cannabis is detectable for approximately three weeks in a person's system. We continually monitor behaviour and risk through this process if there are significant changes in a patient's mental state. Often the drug screens are repeated. In all wards in Glenside there is a no drugs policy. Rural and remote is an open unit and if, on occasions, clients are found to have THC on their person it is confiscated. The unit works closely with the co-morbidity consultant to address some of these issues regarding a client's drug use. A whole range of services and programs is provided to clients during their admission to deal with co-morbidity issues in a therapeutic environment. Sadly, we know that co-morbidity, in terms of mental health illness and illicit substance abuse, is linked—we acknowledge that.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: As the honourable member says, 'self-medication'—and, in some respects, he is quite right. Mental illness can cause people to suffer incredible distress and stress. Often the medication associated with the therapeutic treatment of certain types of mental illness has side-effects that are quite unpleasant for the client, and so there is this balance. There is a view that that is one of the reasons for this co-morbidity issue, because people with mental illness or some other illnesses do self-medicate using illicit substances to try to diminish their suffering and some of the effects of their illness. A great deal has gone into addressing the issues relating to drugs at Glenside campus. Over the past couple of years, the mental health service has put in place a number of initiatives that aim to reduce supply and minimise harm to persons from the use of illicit drugs. Some of these have included the development of policies and procedures focusing on:

◦the reduction of risks associated with substance abuse, including supply and harm minimisation;

◦access to specialist drug and alcohol counsellors on the Glenside campus and through DASSA;

◦the drug and alcohol clinical practice development program; and

◦the provision of a specialist co-morbidity education position. The initiatives put in place have been instrumental in minimising the possession and use of illicit drugs on the campus.

Staff are vigilant in the application of the Glenside campus policy of zero tolerance of the possession of prohibited substances by patients, staff or visitors, and I have outlined the testing that occurs. In addition, as we know, the Glenside campus is visited by other people. A number of the wards are open and, as with any other hospital, we need to be vigilant in relation to drugs on the grounds. Security officers patrol for suspicious behaviour, entry point signs inform that drugs will not be tolerated, and there are unannounced dog squad visits throughout the Glenside wards and grounds, which to date have not found any evidence of illicit drug hotspots. If staff find illicit drugs on a patient, the substance is placed in a locked drug box that is accessible only by police and, of course, they are notified if patients are found with illicit substances. As members can see, a great deal has gone on in relation to the management of what is a very difficult and often complex problem.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:32): I have a supplementary question arising from the answer. Does that mean that, when I raise these allegations in the future, the minister would rather that I name patients at Glenside from the information I have received on the public record?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:32): The honourable member knows only too well that, if any member of parliament or, for that matter, any member of the public, has any specific concerns, they are invited to bring them to me or any one of my officers and they will be investigated immediately. The honourable member knows only too well how important it is not to sensationalise aspects concerning mental health. She knows that, and she knows that it is just cheap political grandstanding to sensationalise these types of issues involving some of our most vulnerable community members. As I have put on record before, and I will continue to put on record, if this individual has any problem related to specific patients or individual issues, I invite the honourable member to bring them to me and they will be addressed urgently.