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.
The YEP today continues its week-long series on spice with a look at the impact which use of the drug is having on the streets here in Leeds.
When the council’s executive board meets on Wednesday, its members will hear about the creation of a dedicated Street Support Team to work with the estimated 200 people who are known to be active ‘street users’.
This vulnerable group of people have been identified by community safety partnership Safer Leeds as being homeless, sleeping rough, begging or involved in substance misuse, criminality, anti-social behaviour and other issues.
A report to the board says: “Leeds has witnessed a visible increase in the numbers of people on the street using a variety of substances including ‘spice’ and, therefore, an increase in both medical incidents, many linked to the use of spice, and anti-social behaviour by those under the influence of the drug.
“The increasing numbers is having a direct impact on emergency services including the ambulance service, A&E and calls for service to West Yorkshire Police.”
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It reveals 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.
Each of those call-outs, which cost the service an estimated £42,000, were linked to homelessness, drugs or alcohol. Spice-related calls for service to police have also dramatically increased from around 16 per month last September to around 66 per month in July this year.
Sean Walker, manager of Business Against Crime in Leeds (BACIL), said: “It has been getting a lot more visible in the last few months and that, of course, links in with begging issues to get money for it and some of the increase we’ve seen in shoplifting by spice users stealing to fund their habits.”
For members of BACIL, it is the potential for violence when they approach suspected shoplifters who have taken spice as much as the shoplifting itself which is causing concern.
Sean said the issue is raised at every weekly security meeting, adding: “Quite often it’s a particular cohort of people who names get brought up all the time.
“I think it’s the unpredictability of spice users that’s an issue for everybody that has to come into contact with them. That not just BACIL members – it’s the police, paramedics. It’s the aggression that goes with the spice use.”
He said he now expects to see spice users every day when walking along streets like Briggate and finds it more noticeable if they are absent as they were one morning last week.
For the wider public, it can be frightening and distressing to see people in such a state and not know how best to help.
Safer Leeds chief officer Paul Money said the biggest concerns about the drug vary depending on who you ask.
“A retailer would say it’s the crime they’re committing but, for me, the biggest single impact is the massive vulnerability of the people who regularly use spice create for themselves," he said. "They are so vulnerable to harm, mental health issues and being a victim of crime.
“The second issue is the criminality that people who are taking spice tend to get themselves involved in – retail crime, street robberies. Like any other substance misuse it’s inherently connected to criminality, so there’s a vulnerability from a user point of view and then from the point of view of other city centre users like the residents, businesses and visitors.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with the affects of spice, Forward Leeds can help. Click here to visit their website, or call 0113 8872477.