Crime

15 Atascadero State Hospital patients test positive for meth, but where did it come from?

Atascadero State Hospital, where Troy Parker worked as a police lieutenant before retiring in 2017. Parker sued the Department of State Hospitals March 8 for allegedly denying him the ability to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
Atascadero State Hospital, where Troy Parker worked as a police lieutenant before retiring in 2017. Parker sued the Department of State Hospitals March 8 for allegedly denying him the ability to obtain a concealed weapons permit. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Fifteen patients at Atascadero State Hospital tested positive for meth in a drug screening that prompted a four-day lockdown late last month, and officials continue to investigate how patients were supplied the drug.

In response to questions from The Tribune on Wednesday, Department of State Hospitals Information Officer Ralph Montano said that the drug tests were not mandatory and were only administered after patients appeared to be under the influence. Not all patients were tested, he said, just those that appeared to be under the influence. Seven patients refused to be tested.

On April 20, the hospital was placed on lockdown as staff conducted a search of all areas within the secured treatment area of the hospital, even those that patients had no access to, as well as all patient units, Montano said.

Staff working in all areas within the secured treatment area were also searched, including administrators and their offices, Montano added, though no staff members were drug tested.

The search, which was carried out by the hospital's police department with canine units from Coalinga State Hospital, lasted until the afternoon of April 24, Montano said. During that time, visitation was halted and patient movement within the facility was restricted.

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Asked whether staff there are in any increased safety risks to staff members due to the contraband, Montano said illegal drugs always present risks in a hospital setting.

"However, there were no known acts of aggression directly associated with the methamphetamine in this incident and no increased risks have been identified as a result of this incident to either the facility, patients or staff," he wrote in a followup email Thursday.

ASH averages a handful of physical attacks by patients a week, according to information provided by the facility.

Montano said no arrests have been made regarding the meth use and the investigation into where the substances came from or whether any patient will face charges remains ongoing.

Atascadero State Hospital houses male patients who have been accused of a felony but have been found mentally incompetent to stand trial by a judge.

Last year, patients were treated there an average of 167 days before they are transferred back to a jail or elsewhere to face charges, according to a Department of State Hospitals spokesman.

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Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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