Spice is becoming a bigger problem throughout the UK, in major cities and towns, and is having a detrimental affect on our public services, prisons, businesses and the public in general.
The YEP launched a week-long series that wanted to get behind the scenes and look at all the aspects of the mind-altering drug, aiming to inform and educate readers on the pressures that face all of the above.
The aim was never to victimise users, or blame them, but to look at reasons why the drug was becoming such a staple in our city, and was was being done to try and combat the wide-ranging issues around it.
In fact, we wanted to move away from the easy option of labelling users as 'zombies' and de-humanising them, while highlighting the problems use of this drug on our streets was having.
Here is a comprehensive round-up of all the articles produced by the YEP's news team, led by crime correspondent Georgina Morris, which hopefully offer a greater insight into spice use in Leeds - and further afield.
We started the week with an early morning raid on a suspected spice factory in Leeds by West Yorkshire Police, which we were invited to join.
Children in uniforms are walking to school as the convoy of almost a dozen marked and unmarked police vehicles leaves the leisure centre car park.
Within minutes we'd reached our destination, a pair of flats on St Wilfrid’s Avenue in Harehills that are home to suspected spice dealers.
A case at Leeds Crown Court saw a Leeds mum jailed for smuggling spice in to a Wetherby prison in her bra for her son, which you can read here, while the chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board tasked with reviewing standards at HMP Leeds, Barrie Meakin, told the YEP the different ways that spice was being smuggled in to Leeds Prison, which proved a popular read. You can see that piece in full here.
HMP Leeds spoke about the ways in which they were combating the smuggling of spice.
Official figures published earlier this year also showed that drugs had been found during 456 searches carried out inside the prison in the 12 months to March 2018 – five times more than five years ago.
Governor of HMP Leeds, Steve Robson told us: “My staff are dedicated to ensuring the prison is safe, decent and drug free. “We have specialist drug search teams, sniffer dogs and the technology to test incoming mail for drugs. Thanks to all of this, we’ve seen a noticeable reduction in the number of incidents with psychoactive substances over the past nine months.”
The full piece from HMP Leeds can read by clicking here.
We also reached out to charities who have regular involvement with the homeless community in Leeds and drug users, such as Simon on the Streets and Forward Leeds.
Spiralling spice use in Leeds could be better addressed by sending more dedicated mental health workers out on the streets, said Simon on the Streets manager Gordon Laing, whose full interview around the use of spice can be read here.
Building a rapport with some of the city’s most entrenched rough sleepers and beggars is crucial to the work Kim Kaur does through alcohol and drugs service Forward Leeds.
The chaotic lives clients often lead on the streets and their past experiences can make it hard to persuade them to engage with support services at the best of times – and that becomes harder still if they are escaping into the ‘spice cloud’.
You can read our full interview with Kim Kaur here and Leanne Tomlinson, a manager in Forward Leeds' early intervention and prevention team, said she had a real concern with the way the mainstream media had labelled the drug and its users.
“I think it’s dehumanising the people that use it,” she said. “The people you see on TV and around Leeds that are visible, a lot of those people are quite vulnerable and could do with help."
Find out everything that Leanne Tomlinson told the YEP by clicking here.
St George’s Crypt in Leeds is well used to supporting clients who may have issues with various drugs or alcohol, and they told us that the unpredictability of the growing number now using spice and incidents where staff have felt ill as a result of the drug being smoked inside the charity’s hostel and care centre have become a real concern.
That piece is available to read here.
We went to West Yorkshire Police to try and find out the impact spice was having on their services, and were told by Chief Inspector Richard Padwell: "“The police and our partner agencies are taking the issue very seriously and are committed to doing everything we can to address the problem.”
Detective Inspector Phil Jackson is part of the Leeds Serious Organised Crime Unit which has seized more than £800,000 worth of the Class B drug in the past six months or so, and he spoke about the amount of money that is being made by spice producers and dealers. His full interview is available here.
But spice isn't just a problem in Leeds.
Sheffield, Manchester, Doncaster and Hull, among many others, are also in the midst of their own spice issues, and we thought it was important to highlight the issues on a national scale, which can be read here.
Of course, the main focus was always going to be on our city though.
People collapsed in shop doorways, slumped on benches or frozen to the spot have become an all-too-familiar sight to city centre workers, residents and visitors, and we also found out that Yorkshire Ambulance Service received 183 calls in the last three months involving street users, with most of the ambulances dispatched to Boar Lane, City Square or Wellington Street.
The YEP was also keen to educate people about the drug with a name that means sweets to many people. That's why we wrote a piece about what the drug is actually made from and what the laws are surrounding it, which you can read here, and also what effects users feels, which is available to read here.
Of course, we wanted to have our say on the problems the city is facing too, and we never shy away from the seriousness of issues that matter to residents in and around Leeds.
The YEP wrote a number of comment pieces and will continue to do so as the full extent of the spice problem unravels.
Locking people up is not the answer, in our opinion, as prisons are facing a desperate battle against spice.
We will continue to shine a bright light on the drug and the consequences it has on everyone, from businesses owners and city centre workers to the police force. From hospital workers to children seeing users in the streets. In other words, everyone in the city.
But we thought that the enormity of the situation needed some column inches and this week-long series aimed to show just what everyone is up against, including users, when it comes to ridding our streets of this terrible scourge.