Like most organisations working with people who are homeless or entrenched in a street lifestyle, the team at St George’s Crypt in Leeds is well used to supporting clients who may have issues with various drugs or alcohol.
But the unpredictability of the growing number now using spice and incidents where staff have felt ill as a result of the drug being smoke at inside the charity’s hostel and care centre have become a real concern.
Matthew Nice, operations director, said: “We have definitely seen an increase in the use of a drug which we presume is spice. I think a lot of the clients are using it, we know that, and we’ve found evidence of it.
"We’ve had occasions where staff have been affected when someone has smoked in a confined area and then our staff have gone in and felt unwell when they’ve come out of the room. I have concerns for staff at the moment.
“The other problem for us has been the unpredictability of the people who are on it. They go into that comatose state which is then difficult for us to deal with.”
Spice – a form of synthetic cannabinoid – has effects which are often described as being similar to those of ketamine or solvents like glue.
Users typically experience altered consciousness, feel relaxed or sedated, or begin to hallucinate, but it can also induce psychosis-like effects, agitation, convulsions or seizures in some.
Those effects can kick in within minutes of the drug being smoked but can take longer if it is taken orally, and can last from 30 minutes or less to as long as eight hours.
Matthew said the charity has clear rules for its clients and will not tolerate people being intoxicated, so this increased use of spice means more people are probably now at risk of being excluded from services.
“If somebody is on spice they might come in and have dinner and 20 minutes later they could be comatose or acting quite bizarrely, “ he said. “It’s a problem for us managing it.
“I’m thinking about protecting the rest of the people in the building.”
He recognises, as most others do, that the problem is not just confined to Leeds and tackling it will not be simple.
“I think the reality of trying to disrupt the supply of something that is cheap to supply and buy will be very difficult,” he said. “One of the good things about the city though is we have a lot of joined-up working, the street outreach service and so on.
“We will continue to work with other organisations in the city and anyone who comes to stay with us, we’ll try to point in the right direction.”
Drug and alcohol service Forward Leeds can provide support and advice to anyone concerned about their own use of spice or other substances. Visit www.forwardleeds.co.uk or call 0113 887 2477 (9am-5pm, weekdays).