Homelessness services in Westminster are reporting a surge in the number of people using the drug ‘spice’ – said to have withdrawal effects more severe than heroin and crack cocaine.
22% of the 430 homeless people staying in Westminster hostels in the first four months of 2016 were using the drug, a number that would have been closer to zero just two years ago.
Spice, one of the many street names for synthetic cannabis, can cause severe psychotic episodes in users, who experience distressing hallucinations, vomiting and seizures.
Ewa Kapica, an outreach worker at Westminster-based homelessness charity The Connection at St. Martins-in-the-Fields, said: “I’ve witnessed people thrashing around on the floor, experiencing vivid hallucinations, screaming they want to ‘end it all’. These fits are followed by crashes; the person becomes unresponsive and the emergency services step in. It’s terrifying.
“One user was convinced he had a worm climbing through his blood stream and nearly rolled into traffic before an ambulance and two police units arrived.”
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Westminster City Council, said: “Spice is cheap, readily available and highly addictive, so it’s little wonder our support services are seeing an increase in the number of users. In just two years a new drug epidemic has taken over the streets of London.”
Spice doesn’t just present a risk to rough sleepers, but also to the frontline staff who are out every night helping them off the street and into accommodation.
Spice users often exhibit aggressive or non-responsive behaviour, which has seen a rise in reports of abuse from staff, and prevents rough sleepers from engaging with the health, housing, education and employment services the council and its partners offer.
“It is devastating to see rough sleepers unable to move forward with their lives because of an addiction. That is why I am calling on central government, homelessness charities and health partners to come together and develop a long-term solution to a drug that continues to strengthen its grip on some of the most vulnerable people in society,” continued Cllr Aiken.
“We welcome the new Psychoactive Substances Act which came into effect this year, making it an offence to produce or supply former ‘legal highs’ such as spice. But we need legislation to go even further, giving the police more powers to confiscate drugs from users as well as dealers, to be truly effective.
“Everyone has a part to play. We don’t want to tell people what to do, but all evidence shows that giving directly to someone on the street does not support them into accommodation, but is more likely to sustain a drug habit. The best way to help someone is to connect them to our outreach teams by alerting StreetLink, or giving to a registered charity. It’s these services that are able to reach rough sleepers quickly, assess their needs and offer them the best chance of a more stable future.”
If you are concerned about a rough sleeper you can make a real change by:
* Contacting StreetLink via streelink.org.uk or 0300 500 0914 if you are concerned about someone sleeping rough. They will make sure local teams are alerted and you can get an update on what happens to them.
* Texting REALCHANGE plus the amount you wish to give (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10) to 70500. 100% of your donation will be split between three local homelessness charities.
For friendly confidential advice on drug misuse please TALK TO FRANK on 0300 123 6600. If you would like more information about tailored support available for people living in Westminster who are experiencing problems with alcohol or substance misuse, please contact the Drug and Alcohol Wellbeing Service on 020 7437 3523 or firstname.lastname@example.org