THE percentage of prisoners at Hopkins Correctional Centre caught with drugs in their system has increased to more than five per cent.
Ararat prisoners are also abusing opiate drugs that were originally designed to help people quit heroin.
Targeted urine tests at the prison outside Ararat revealed positive rates of up to 17 per cent in a month, with the average for 2016-17 being 5.1 per cent.
The 2015-16 average positive rate was 4.63 per cent.
As of June Hopkins Correctional Centre held a prisoner population of 719, from which 64 prisoners were targeted for drug tests and 88 were tested at random.
Ararat’s positive rate was below the average for prisons across the state, which was 11.05 per cent, but the state average declined from 2015-16’s figure of 12.45.
Random urine tests showed positive results in up to 3.57 per cent of cases in a month, with the average for 2016-17 being 1.36 per cent positive down from 1.42 in 2015-16.
Ararat prisoners returned a total of 588 positive tests in the first half of this year.
The figures were contained in a Corrections Victoria report.
New drug spreads to Ararat’s prison
Out of the hundreds of drug tests, a close analysis of some of the urine samples suggests that 73 per cent of Ararat prisoners who take drugs are on Buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine is a controlled substance and has legitimate uses in managing withdrawal symptoms for heroin and opiate addicts, similar to methadone.
However, the opiate alternative can be abused to get high and is also cheap and easy to smuggle into
Buprenorphine is available via prescription as either a dissoluble film called Suboxone or a tablet called Subutex, both of which are meant to be taken orally.
A common way to abuse Buprenorphine, at least outside of prison, is to crush its tablet form and inject the drug.
Corrections Victoria Commissioner Jan Shuard told the ABC in 2013 that the amount of prisoners abusing Buprenorphine was a concern.
“In the last 12 months we conducted I think 84,600 searches of our prisons. We did I think 7,000 random general urine tests.
“What's most concerning is 60 per cent of those positive tests were positive to Buprenorphine,” she said.
Buprenorphine appears to be significantly more popular with Ararat prisoners than with Victoria’s prison population as a whole.
About 50 per cent of drug tests in Victoria’s prisons return positive for Buprenorphine compared with more than 73 per cent in Ararat.
Government-funded non-profit organisation NPS MedicineWise warned 16 years ago that buprenorphine could become a problem drug.
“A major problem with buprenorphine is the risk of abuse,” the organisation stated.
“As patients given buprenorphine for pain can become addicted it is clear that it can cause dependence. Some patients grind up the tablets so that they can inject the drug.
‘This is dangerous, particularly if the patient is also using benzodiazepines. Deaths have occurred from cardio respiratory depression when buprenorphine and benzodiazepines have been injected.”
Benzodiazepine is the active ingredient in sedatives like Xanax and Valium and is commonly abused as a way to offset the ‘coming down’ effects after consuming methamphetamine or ice.
Almost 6.7 per cent of positive test results in Ararat’s prison showed traces of Benzodiazepine.
Prisoners and visitors caught with contraband
Ararat prison staff found contraband 250 times on or around prisoners and seven times on visitors during 2016-17
Contraband included drugs, weapons, tools, alcohol and electronic devices.
By far the most popular contraband item was smoking paraphernalia, with 92 discoveries, as tobacco was banned in Victorian prison in July 2015.
Guards found illegal prescription medication on 49 occasions in 2016-17, seizing more than 167 doses.
The guards found alcohol or home brew on six occasions and seized a total of 13 litres.
They also found ‘green vegetable matter on six occasions and seized a total of almost 10 grams.
Synthetic drugs were found on four occasions and 22 grams were seized.
Powder and crystal amphetamines were found on six occasions and more than 12 grams were seized.
Edged weapons were found on 26 occasions with 32 items seized.
In one incident in February, a visitor was caught trying to smuggle 120 prescription medication doses into Hopkins Correctional Centre.