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How illegal substances are smuggled into Butabika Hospital

One of the dormitories at the Alcohol and Drug Unit at Butabika Hospital. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA

INVESTIGATION | URN | Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital admits more than 100 people to their Drug and Alcohol Unit On an annual basis. The patients are in most cases battling substance addiction.

As part of their treatment, they are kept away from substances that triggered their obsession for a period of five to six months as they undergo detoxification and counselling. Such substances include alcohol, marijuana and sometimes, prescribed drugs, among others.

But Uganda Radio Network has established that the treatment plan is threatened by the smuggling of addictive substances into the hospital. A former patient at the facility, who preferred anonymity, told URN in an interview that the market for addictive substances like cigarettes and marijuana is high at the mental facility.

The former patient, who has been admitted more than eight times for Bipolar Disorder since his first mental breakdown in 2002, explains that access to substances is fueled by the ease with which patients escape from the facility to nearby communities. During his stay in Butabika, he says he has been able to escape 10 times.

He, however, adds that escaping from a mental facility is not something the faint-hearted can do;

At Butabika, patients with different mental illnesses are taken to different wards which are enclosed in chain-linked fences and gates attached to them.

Our source says that his escape from the facility was always pushed by the need to earn a living and to get to the top of the influence chain among inmates at the facility.

The former patient was eventually sent away in 2015 for peddling drugs into the facility.  But he says that sometimes, the smuggling is aided by family members who give patients money, which in most cases, they use to buy additives.

According to Dr Juliet Nakku, the Deputy Director of the hospital, smuggled substances are a hindrance to planned treatments. She acknowledges that family members have sneaked illegal substances into the facility, to appease their relatives.

“When patients have access to such substances, it takes longer for the treatment to work. We end up having patients who stay longer than the treatment plan requires because, often, we have to restart the treatment,” Dr Nakku said.

A psychiatrist talks to alcohol and drug patients at Butabika. INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA

Dr Nakku explains that patients suffering from mental illnesses are not advised to take alcohol or drugs because such substances would have the opposite reaction on medication. “Instead of making patients calm, it makes them hyper,” She says.

She adds that the hospital relies on security personnel attached to different wards at the hospital to keep out drugs.

During our investigation, our reporter established that the hospital is accessed with minimal checks which makes it easy for any visitor to access the facility without a hustle.

Our reporter was able to walk through the entrance to the administration building, without being inspected. She was also able to walk to both the Drug and Alcohol Units and the Children’s Ward that have closed gates, but no security personnel.

“Some parts of Butabika do not have security people. The other parts that have, will have one officer armed with only a baton that cannot scare anyone. Sometimes, the guards themselves help in procuring the drugs. They can easily walk out of the gate and buy what you want for a cut,” the source explains.

Dr Nakku explains that patients who are involved in smuggling drugs into the hospital are often secluded in the psychiatric intensive care section so that they can be monitored highly. However, the Hospital is planning to build a wall to enhance its security and close all loopholes that aided access to illegal substances.

“Our current fence in easily breached. Even when we put barbed wire on top of it, patients jump, are hurt and we treat their wounds. But we got money from the government to build a wall this financial year. We hope this will stop the habit of escaping,” Dr Nakku said.

But our source said that the wall might not solve the problem. He says while it makes sure that people do not escape, it will not stop desperate patients from becoming crafty enough to find another way to smuggle the drugs into the hospital.



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