'Zombies': Concerns over effects illegal drug Spice is having on users in Blackpool
This is what former legal high Spice is doing to our town.
Shocking images taken in broad daylight show how suspected users are being turned into ‘zombies’ by the substance.
A Gazette investigation into the problem – which authorities say is no worse than in other major towns and cities – has sparked calls for action to help addicts who are ditching heroin in favour of the drug because it is so cheap.
Coun Tony Williams said: “This can kill people and it turns them into zombies. Not only do these people need help, they need taking off our streets.”
Video footage emerged this week showing individuals and groups supposedly under the influence of the deadly substance, banned last year.
One man was filmed in an alley off Topping Street, almost frozen like a statue.
Another group were caught on camera on the steps of the Grundy Art Gallery in Queen Street, with several individuals appearing to be under the influence of the former legal high.
The Gazette witnessed the problem first-hand on two separate occasions in the middle of the day in the last week.
On Queen Street, another apparent user was spotted slumped over, almost motionless, within minutes of smoking what is believed to be Spice.
And in Deansgate yesterday, The Gazette came across a large group, several of whom were seen smoking a substance causing a similar response, resulting in an ambulance being called.
While Blackpool Council and Lancashire Police both insisted the problem is no worse in the resort than other areas, including Wrexham where graphic images of people slumped over plant pots and motionless in the street emerged last month, Coun Williams, leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council, said more needs to be done to address drug use.
Public Health workers say Spice addiction is difficult to treat and the community using the substance in Blackpool are among the hardest to reach.
It is claimed the substance, a synthetic cannaboid, is available for as little as £1 on the streets of the resort.
'It completely changes them'
Mark Butcher, a leading figure with the Amazing Graze soup kitchen, said volunteers are seeing more and more signs of use among those using the service.
He believes drug users are turning away from heroin to use the substance, which can have serious consequences.
Mark sees first hand the effect it can have on a person.
He said: “This is a bigger problem, bigger than any other drug right now.
“People are coming in on this stuff and it completely changes them.
“You just don’t know what they are going to be like, you don’t know what is in this stuff, what it’s going to do to people.
“They can change in a second.”
Spice is reportedly available for a fraction of the cost of other narcotics, meaning it is fast becoming the drug of choice.
But once using, Mark believes it is hard for those who are on Spice to kick the habit.
He said: “This stuff is so cheap, it’s not like heroin where a user might struggle to find the money, might turn to crime to get the next hit.
“It’s everywhere, we are seeing it all the time, people coming in to the kitchen on this stuff.
“They need help, something needs to be done about it.
“People are telling me they are off it, but you can tell they aren’t. They need help, we need to get rid of this stuff.”
Helping users can be difficult
Lancashire Police insists it is committed to the fight against Spice but made clear Blackpool residents should not be alarmed.
A spokesman said: “These substances are dangerous and if you take something which is not natural, the effects can be 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 such behaviour can be concerning for residents and holidaymakers and are working with our partners, both supporting these individuals and taking enforcement action where appropriate.”
Nicky Dennison, senior public health practitioner at Blackpool Council, admitted helping those using Spice was difficult.
She said in the majority of cases the drug was being used on top of rather than in place of other substances.
She said: “Spice in particular is not a concern for us, it is no more prolific on the streets than any other substance.
“But there are challenges in helping those who are using it.
“The fact the formulation changes means it is hard to treat, both for emergency responders and in the longer term.
“With heroin you can prescribe to gradually reduce dependence, with alcohol we have long established strategies.
“With Spice the only treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy, it cannot be treated in any other ways.
“We are actively reaching out to people and we encourage them to get help.
“But we are dealing with people who may not necessarily know they are taking an illegal drug, who may not believe they have a problem.
“In some cases people simply do not want our help.”