Police officers in Sheffield say there is ‘no magic wand’ to halt the rising tide of Spice use in the city centre, and lots of hard work will be needed to solve the problem.
The Sheffield central neighbourhood policing team have been tackling the drug for around two years - ever since legislation recriminalised the former legal high as a class B drug in 2016.
In that time they say they have had numerous successes - including the closure of two flats on Eldon Street which were believed to be ‘Spice dens’ from which dealers were supplying city centre users.
However, they say they are hampered by the unusual and disorganised way the drug is being dealt, and a public sector operating at - or sometimes beyond - its limit.
Acting Inspector Jonathan Greaves said: “Up until now large parts of support and help networks have been focused towards opiate based drugs because that has always been the predominant issue.
“Spice is something relatively new - 18 months, two years ago it didn’t exist. It is very cheap and the way it is dealt is slightly different than conventional drugs. It seems to be socially dealt to people.
“Enforcement is a course of action that we can take but with some of the people that we are dealing with, that course of action isn’t effective. It’s not a deterrent for them to go to court and prison. It needs to be about trying to find them help.”
Despite this confusing picture, officers believe they are winning the battle against a drug whose effects have become all too familiar to people who use our city centre.
In February, two significant warrants in the Devonshire Green area of Sheffield led to a number of people being arrested. These also resulted in tenants being removed from two flats on Eldon Street after a full closure order was issued by magistrates.
They also currently have two ongoing operations in relation to the supply or use of Spice in Sheffield city centre, have three people on remand for dealing the drug and a number of others who are are under investigation both for supply and possession.
Enforcement, however, can only ever be one part of the picture, they say.
Temporary Sergeant Scott Szymczak said: “Our primary focus is on catching and convicting those involved in supply of the drug, however those found in possession of spice are still committing an offence and can face prison sentences if convicted.”
“We are currently trying to develop our intelligence picture of the supply of spice in the city centre.
“Our current understanding is that unlike traditional drugs such as heroin, which is a very organised network, spice is dealt informally through social networks, where one person will buy a larger amount and then deal it out to other friends and associates. This creates a very chaotic scene of dealing and makes it very hard to target from an enforcement perspective.”
After multiple people collapsed near the Cathedral last week, Jonathan and Scott’s team met with businesses in the area to ensure they understand the issues the businesses have and for the police to tell them what action they are taking.
Acting Inspector Greaves said: “The Archer Project is part of the solution to resolving the issue because they do provide a really good service but we also recognise that it is a place where people who use Spice congregate so we need to work with them to look at how they run their premises and how we can help them.
“But while the visual effects of the taking of the drug are quite significant, actually we are talking about a small minority of people taking this substance.”
“It would be great if we had a magic wand and we could make it all stop but unfortunately it will take a lot of hard work.
“Yes, we are carrying out enforcement but from our point of view the solution to the issue is that people need to get help. Spending six weeks in prison for Spice possession isn’t going to resolve the issue.”
What should you do if you see someone you are worried about?
“The possession and supply of Spice is an police matter but once someone has taken that drug it becomes a medical and welfare issue,” said Temporary Sergeant Szymczak.
“If someone is under the influence of Spice and in an unconscious state and you have concerns about their welfare or their health you need to be contacting an ambulance.”
The officers said a dedicated city centre paramedic did operate in Sheffield some years ago, but was discontinued.
Getting a new dedicated emergency response to Spice use has been talked about, but is currently on hold due to a lack of funding.
Acting Inspector Greaves said he understood people’s concerns but cautioned against overreaction.
“We all live and work in the city centre so we all see the effects of it and it can be quite distressing,” he said.
“But once they are in that ‘zombie’ state they are not generally aggressive.
“While the effects look drastic, they last around about 30 minutes and treatment is gas and air which brings them round.”
Spice or Mamba consists of chemicals sprayed on vegetable matter to make it look like cannabis. Its effects, however, can vary wildly from batch to batch.
“Difference chemicals affect different parts of the body,” said Acting Inspector Greaves.
“Some will affect someone physically and some more mentally and some do both so you can have mass hospitalisations.”
Fortunately this has not happened in Sheffield, but the recent experience of Manchester which hit the headlines last year due to the extent of its Spice related problems shows the dangers.
And the issues are not just specific to the UK. Just last month in New York City, two dozen people overdosed on ‘K2’, an American version of the same type of drug.