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The Art Issue

Chemical Warfare

Inpatients like to have a little smoke of crack to relieve hospital stress.
December 1, 2003, 12:00am

The use of Class A street drugs by people on National Health Service property is so completely out of control we only had to spend ten minutes in one of London’s biggest hospitals to picture this guy smoking crack in an ironing room down the hall from a children’s ward. Look at dude’s eyes. He’s all… ‘BLINGO!’ In a recent UK survey, it was reported that drug misuse affects 30% of all patients treated for a mental health problems while other data suggest that as many as half of all patients with schizophrenia have a dual substance misuse disorder. Doesn’t make it very safe for other patients or the staff now, does it? Not with all those needles being trodden on by crack-crazed schizophrenics intent on eating babies for dinner.

In response to this problem, an embarrassed government has just released guidelines designed to clamp down on substance misuse among mental health service users, particularly psychiatric inpatients. If the new guidelines are properly executed, getting fucked in hospital may never be as easy again. Bummer for our man here, eh? In the past, attempts to control the supply of illicit drugs on wards has been limited by the legal requirement that routine and random searching of a patient without cause may only be applied in exceptional circumstances (ie, where dangerous or violent tendencies create a need for additional security). Now though, ward managers are looking at ways of getting around this by introducing patient “contracts” which all patients are asked to sign upon admission, thus sanctioning hospital staff to carry out otherwise illegal searches and take blood and urine samples. The government also wants strict new rules covering the design and layout of all acute inpatient psychiatric wards. For example, there is a demand for “fish eye” observation lenses to be fitted on all bathrooms and toilets. In addition, all doors must be equipped with polycarbonate observation panels, mirrors should be installed to allow views around corners and corridors, and interior windows should be aligned to allow observation across a number of rooms. Soon, being on a psych ward will almost be like being a contestant on a Reality TV show. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Derek Fisher, 29, is one of the most reliable travelcard touts in London and has firsthand knowledge of the new regime. He was originally admitted to hospital three years ago after a suicide attempt involving a hammer and screwdriver, during which he lost most of his teeth. His most recent admission came after he wandered into an A&E Department carrying a samurai sword and bleeding from self-inflicted wounds to his face and ears. “I was really stressed out for a while, and needed to get rid of my bad energy” he told me over a calming pint of Guinness in a Camberwell boozer. “I did my teeth first, knocked them all out, which was OK, then they took me to hospital, but after I had a rest they didn’t let me out, which I didn’t think was too clever.” On his second night on the ward, desperate Derek was able to get in contact with his step-sister, who visited him the next afternoon with some delicious rocks of crack cocaine. “She knows I get real stressed, so I asked her to bring me a bit. I was on some other medicine the doctors in the ward gave me, but I wasn’t feeling myself. I did most of it in the toilet that night, but I also saved a bit and did swaps with one of the other boys who had…like…pills getme? There’s always some boys dealin’ getme? It’s shit greedy, what they do. Okay, if you’re stressed like me, you have a smoke, but I’m not a slag. You see them fuckers, trying to sell shit to the young lads, and the young lads are so bored, what else do they have to do? I get mine from my sister, and it’s only for me.” During his latest admission, Derek admits that it was harder, although by no means impossible to score. “When I was just back in this last time, it was a bit weird. They were giving my sister hassle, and wanted to search her purse. She got fed up and left, so I just had to feel that stress. In the end the doctors gave me extra medication to calm me, but it wasn’t really good. One of the nurses or maybe a psychologist came and was asking me about crack and what do I like it for, and all of that. They looked after me pretty well, so that I only got high eight times, maybe 10 times in like three months, so I think that I’m doing pretty good with my stress.” Despite anecdotal evidence that the new measures are reducing the supply on wards, it is not entirely clear if this is a good thing. Ironically, some staff believe that drug use on wards can actually have a positive calming influence on patients. “People say I’m mad, and drugs is bad, but then they put me in that dirty hospital!” Derek said. “That’s why I just need to have smoke for my stress. What’s the harm in that?” COBRA PETERS