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Police working to clamp down on 'difficult' issue of Spice in Sheffield city centre

Chief Constable Stephen Watson.
Chief Constable Stephen Watson.
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Education is the answer to halting the rising tide of Spice use in Sheffield city centre but the problem is not a straightforward one to solve - that's the message from South Yorkshire's top cop.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson said the former legal high, which was re-criminalised as a class B drug in 2016, was 'blighting' city and town centres across the county.

Spice users in Sheffield city centre.

Spice users in Sheffield city centre.

He said it had also prompted a lot of concern from the public as it leads to users being left in a zombie-like state.

Mr Watson said: "Spice is a really difficult issue and it's one that I, personally, am concerned about. I have been out on patrol with officers in the town and city centres and have found myself literally pulling some chap up from the gutter who has been lying on his face.

"When you come across these people, who frankly, have been stupid enough to have consumed Spice, it creates in them this sort of zombie-like state which is very visible and quite distressing for members of the public and also puts the individual at huge risk of vulnerability because they have rendered themselves completely helpless."

Sheffield Council opened a dedicated walk-in Spice clinic last month following growing sightings around the city centre of people rendered unconscious or in a trance-like state after taking the drug.

Mr Watson said: "Our response to the Spice issue would be that it is illegal and where can discover Spice particular in respect of people who supply it, we will take action, we will intervene and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

"Frequently, unfortunately, in respect of the individuals who have consumed it, there are not in possession of the Spice because it's in their system so all we are left with is a very vulnerable person who cannot simply abandon.

"We have to intervene to give them the normal care and compassion that you might expect. We are left almost trying to revive these people and if they can't be revived we have to get an ambulance.

"The ambulance service is really overstretched, they could do without the demand, and as a result you have police officers stood around, sometimes for 45 minutes, simply trying to revive somebody who has rendered themselves incapable through Spice and we are overloading an already overloaded ambulance.

"The bottom line is, yes of course, we can prosecute those who would deal and supply Spice but much as with drugs in its broader sense, the answer is not with trying to arrest ourselves out of this problem, it must turn on education and a lot of what we do is to try and divert users.

"The final solution to the issue is that people just stop taking Spice because it's one of the most foolish things you can do to yourself and I simply cannot get my head around why on Earth people would do it."

Mr Watson said market traders in other parts of South Yorkshire had reported a fall in sales because Spice users were collapsed around their stalls - something he said 'simply cannot be allowed to happen'.

He added: "It might seem like a naive thing to say but I just wish that Spice had never been invented because it's a massive problem and it's a massive problem in our prisons as well."