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Who's smuggling contraband in AZ state hospital?

Posted: 5:34 PM, May 05, 2016
Updated: 2016-05-06 00:50:45-04

Officials are struggling to keep dangerous and illegal contraband out of the hands of patients inside Arizona’s state mental hospital, records show.

In the past six months, there have been 35 incident reports related to contraband with staff uncovering dangerous items.

Hospital officials have also called in drug dogs and conducted a series of sweeps.

Records show patients have been caught with or have reported having synthetic drugs, tobacco, cell phones, pornography, lighters, drugs, a knife, shanks, and a box cutter.

ABC15 INVESTIGATES THE ARIZONA STATE HOSPITAL

ABC15 requested documents related to recent contraband after receiving a series of tips about internal investigations into staff who were accused of bringing restricted items into the hospital.

So far, a handful of staff members have been questioned by hospital investigators, records show.

ABC15 is not naming the employees because the allegations have not been sustained.

The majority of recent reports and investigations involve a special hospital unit for sexually violent people known as the Arizona Community Protection and Treatment Center, or ACPTC.

It’s likely patients are at least partially responsible for the entry of contraband. Some ACPTC students are eligible to leave the hospital during the day.

The issue of contraband inside the hospital is not a new problem.

In a 2014 interview, a hospital insider told ABC15 that staff were routinely smuggling in synthetic drugs like bath salts and spice. A 2010 memo written by a hospital investigation also outlined issues with employees bringing in contraband and selling it to patients.

In recent reports, patients said that chewing tobacco is being sold for $25 a can.

In a statement, officials acknowledged the presence of contraband inside the hospital. The statement attributed several potential causes, including new policies that allow patients to hug visitors.

The “no hug” policy was controversial and challenged by the hospital’s Human Rights Committee.

“One of our top priorities at the Arizona State Hospital is patient and staff safety. The therapeutic environment we?provide includes things like food visits, birthday cards and hugs from loved ones which helps our patients on their road to recovery and maintains our patients' rights,” according to Arizona Health Director Dr. Cara Christ. “While these simple things may increase the risk of contraband entering our facility, they mean so much to our patients, so we are diligent in our monitoring and all reports of potential contraband are investigated. We have seen incredible improvements at the state hospital over the past year and are tremendously proud of our team and their recovery oriented approach to patient care.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .