Prisoners estimate at least one-third of all inmates use ‘spice’
NPS (Novel Psychoactive Substances) have become a prison phenomenon, much more widely used on the inside than out. User Voice undertook a distinctly peer-led consultation in nine English prisons, on behalf of the NHS, exploring how prisoners understood the phenomenon of former ‘legal highs’ in prison.
The report accurately reflects the voices and experiences of serving prisoners, a group hitherto not heard from in the recent debates about life in prison, the criminalisation of legal highs, and the use of drugs in prison.
They reveal addiction, violence, bullying and mental health issues associated with the widespread availability and use of former legal highs.
The consultation revealed:
ONE IN THREE PRISONERS SURVEYED USED SPICE IN THE LAST MONTH. IT IS NOW THE MOST POPULAR DRUG IN PRISONS
The last-month use of Spice was over three times higher than in a 2014 report. Indications are that use of Spice is widespread and normalised in the prison estate: “Spice has taken over the drug culture in prison … it’s reached epidemic levels.”
THE ABSENCE OF A DRUG TEST ENHANCES SPICE’S POPULARITY AND ENSURES A CONSTANT SUPPLY TO MEET DEMAND ALTHOUGH POSSESSION IN PRISON HAS BEEN OUTLAWED FOR SOME TIME
Formerly legal outside prison, it has never been permitted to bring them into a prison, inmates therefore think the recent legislation will not have a great effect on the supply in prison. Their widespread and tolerated use has been a result of their ability to make time, and a prison sentence (“bird”), go by in a blur. Hence the nickname, the bird killer: “It kills time, takes your mind away, it’s like a bird killer. Your problems disappear cos you don’t think about them.” Some prisoners report that spice users are sometimes punished without proof they are using the drugs because staff have to make a decision based on guesswork as there is no test.
THE HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES OF SPICE USE ARE ADDICTION, DEBT, VIOLENCE, BULLYING AND MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
Inmates related stories of escalating debts to the gangs dealing spice; spiraling mental health issues connected with usage; of horrific bullying, including ‘spiking’ people and forcing users to overdose for entertainment. Other physical effects include seizures, fits, palpitations and skin infections. “It makes you physically weak, some people can’t breathe properly … soaking with sweat, feet sweat so much, they’re like squelching in your shoes.
PEOPLE WITH UNTREATED MENTAL HEALTH AND DRINK AND DRUG PROBLEMS ARE BEING LEFT IN PRISON WITH NO SERVICES ADDRESSING THEIR NEEDS AND HAPPY TO TAKE HUGE RISKS WITH THEIR HEALTH
People taking drugs to self-medicate existing conditions turned to spice in prison – prisoners relayed that they didn’t know what was in the drugs they were taking, but still reported a willingness to take the substances despite some horrific reactions: “If there wasn’t spice it’d be something else … people can’t cope with prison.
UNTRAINED STAFF HAVE LED PRISONERS TO BECOME VERY ILL
Inmates say they are unlikely to report problems as staff, desensitized and untrained, seek to punish users, and that the lack of harm reduction training for staff is doing further damage. Pressures have coincided with cuts, meaning for example prisoners being left in their cells more: “There isn’t enough staff here to do everything, and the staff that are here are too busy dealing with spice for anything else.”