No end in sight to the Spice scourge in Blackpool
A year ago, The Gazette highlighted the scourge of synthetic drug spice which had begun replacing established illegal drugs on the street.
The formerly legal synthetic drug had been made illegal after years of being freely available in ‘head shops’ and online.
However, concerns were raised about its increased use among the resort’s homeless and desperate after users were pictured slumped senseless in the streets in broad daylight.
Now it is suspected the drug, which offers oblivion for as little as a fiver, has claimed its latest victim.
Spice took its grip on Trudy McGregor’s already chaotic lifestyle three years ago, her friends say.
The 50-year-old homeless woman was found dead in the street, her body ravaged beyond repair by addiction and her homeless lifestyle.
She was found at around 2.40am on Talbot Road on June 30. Her death is not being treated as suspicious.
She had been sleeping rough in the resort, and was a familiar face at local soup kitchens including Amazing Graze on Boothley Road and Del Girls Helping Hand on Church Street, where she was remembered fondly.
However, she would disappear for days at a time and it was only when she made a reappearance that her friends found out she had been close to death on more than one occasion, requiring emergency treatment at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
Amazing Graze founder Mark Butcher said: “She was always looking out for everybody else.
She would take food from the soup kitchen for people on the streets who couldn’t make it because they were in such a state. She was like her own little soup kitchen in a way.”
Tracey Vinyard, founder of Del Girls, said: “She often came in and said she was starving and I’d find something for her.
She was there most mornings for a cup of coffee telling her stories. She was a little bit of a gossip in a way. She was just a likeable person.”
Both Mr Butcher and Miss Vinyard said Trudy (inset) had been living on the streets on and off for approximately six years.
Hours before her death she had taken Spice, he said. A second woman was also taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital after collapsing outside Greenwoods, on Abingdon Street, at 10.30am, and was discharged the following day. Miss Vinyard said it was believed the two women had been taking the class B drug together.
At the weekend another rough sleeper, a 30-year-old man, was found dead at around 8.05am on Saturday in nearby Deansgate.
Police are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding Ms McGregor’s death. A file has been passed onto the coroner and a postmortem will be carried out in due course.Friends say she had struggled with addiction to Spice and alcohol in the years before her death.
Miss Vinyard said the mother-of-one had come to ‘live for’ the addictive substances.
Mr Butcher said Spice continued to be ‘a curse’ on Blackpool, and that the problem was not seeing any significant improvement despite council schemes to combat homelessness.
Mr Butcher said: “Trudy got addicted to Spice about two or three years ago. She’s probably the most well-known person at Blackpool Victoria Hospital because they’ve brought her back to life two or three times, or even more than that.
“She would cry all the time at the end. She didn’t want to be like that. Nobody wants to live that way.”
Mr Butcher said plans to ‘crack down’ on begging in the resort would do nothing but push the problem elsewhere.
“Nobody wants to help. People don’t want to know,” he said.
“We have all got to take responsiblity for what’s going on in our home town. We’re supposed to be a community. The council is throwing out orders pushing them out into Layton, pushing them out into Grange Park.
“They’re not dealing with the problem. We need to give them time and treatment to recover.
“They are living these chaotic lives one day after the next. They’re hopeless to deal with their homeless problem because of their overriding drugs problems. It’s a curse on the town.
“It’s Â£10 for a bag of it and that can get six of them off their heads for eight hours. They don’t even want heroin any more. They are doing Spice because it’s cheaper.
“At the moment, we are criminalising the most vulnerable people in our community when we need to help them.
“Why is it that in our country we ignore the successes of other countries dealing with this?”
However, one resort-based organisation says help is available at the end of a telephone line.
Horizon is the drug and alcohol service for people aged 25 and above, funded by Blackpool Council.
The service across four sites within Blackpool handles around 170 new assessments every month.
There are 1,400 people receiving support from Horizon.
A spokesman said: “In contrast to how the town is usually portrayed in the media, Blackpool actually has a vibrant and very positive recovery community which is going from strength to strength.
“A large number of clients graduating from our treatment programmes are now entering further education or employment after living with addiction issues for many years, and the peer-led recovery community support groups are very well attended.
Sean Callaghan, iIntegrated service manager said: ”We have an open door policy for dependent drinkers and people with addiction issues.
“Anybody who wants to access support can just turn up at the Horizon Connect building at 102 Dickson Rd during normal office hours, or they can telephone 01253 205156 to book an appointment.
“If you are a resident of Blackpool, and you need support, there is no barrier to accessing that support.
“In the old days people had to be referred by a health professional, but that just made it more difficult for the person to admit they needed help.
“We wanted to remove any obstacles in the way, so that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“So the help is there, but for it to be successful, the client has to want the treatment in the first place.”
Coun Graham Cain (inset), Blackpool Council’s cabinet secretary for resilient communities, said: “It would not be appropriate to comment on these deaths because no details are available as yet confirming the cause, nor the exact housing status of the individuals concerned.
“As far as the use of Spice in Blackpool is concerned, the problems associated with it are probably not disimilar to those experienced by other areas in the country. However, Blackpool Council has supported the local drugs services such as Horizon to be prepared and trained to deal with any person experiencing problems associated with the use of Spice. The council has also supported the work taking place with people begging in the town centre and there is evidence that some of these individuals are receiving help for their drug problems.Blackpool Council together with its partners provides a range of services to homeless people including a minimum of four outreach sessions in the town centre each week.”
What is the solution to the problem?
Few large towns and cities in the UK have escaped the menace of Spice.
Blackpool is far from alone in experiencing its effects.
From Inverness to Falmouth in Cornwall, it is not uncommon to see addicts slumped in a drugged stupour on park benches or on the pavement.
Manchester, Liverpool and Wrexham have seen some of the worst addiction to the drug in the North West.
Local authorities and police have all struggled to come up with a solution to the problem blighting our streets and public spaces.
Uniquely, Manchester commissioned leading criminologist Dr Rob Ralphs, a lecturer and researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University to examine the spread of Spice addiction.
Dr Ralphs said half-gram bags were being sold on the street for as little as Â£5 and criminalising rough sleepers currently using the drug in Manchester city centre would do nothing to ease the situation.
He said studies had shown that an estimated 90 per cent of rough sleepers in the city centre were using the drug.
Dr Ralphs also said that prisons were ‘churning out’ Spice addicts because the drug evades current testing.
He said the illicit substance has no smell when smoked and testing for laboratory-made compounds was extremely difficult.
He said prisoners were using Spice ‘to kill time’ inside - and continuing to do so after their release.
He said: “Give it its due, Manchester is probably doing more than any other local authority, but in Manchester it is right in your face because it is Piccadilly Gardens. But criminalising a homeless person isn’t going to do anything.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving safety across the prison estate and take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prisons.
“We have taken swift action to stop the supply of drugs, including mandatory drug testing and the training of over 300 drug detection dogs to specifically detect psychoactive substances.
“We have made it a criminal offence to possess any psychoactive substance in a prison and anyone caught with drugs will face prosecution and extra time behind bars.”
What the police say
Chief Insp Lee Wilson, of Blackpool Police, said: “Spice has been an issue nationally for several years now following the increase in availability of legal highs. However since December 2016, it has been illegal to possess for supply or sell Spice.
“These substances are dangerous and if you take something which is not natural, the effects can be incredibly damaging.
“Our advice remains that people should not take them as they simply have no idea what they could contain or the health risks involved.
“We recognise the often bizarre behaviours exhibited by some of those under the influence of Spice can be concerning and intimidating for residents and holidaymakers.
“We are working with our partners both supporting these individuals and taking enforcement action where appropriate against those peddling this misery. We are committed to keeping the town safe and will continue to do so.
“The work we are engaging in with our partners, including the town’s local health authority, leads us to believe that there is no immediate cause for concern and that the issue in Blackpool relating to the use of Spice is no greater than elsewhere in the country.
“If you have concerns about drug use in your area, including Spice, then you should call police on 101.”