UP to five people are collapsing every day after taking dangerous psychoactive substances, formerly known as 'legal highs'.
That's according to a multi-agency group that has been working to tackle the problem and ensure users receive the right support.
The drugs, which are are highly addictive and leave users in a ‘zombie’ state, come in many forms and are commonly known as spice, black mamba and mandown amongst others.
The group, which includes the council, healthcare professionals, homeless charities and the police, say users tend to be rough sleepers.
Cheshire Police has confirmed there have been 41 reports between April 1 and June 30 this year relating to the substances, and there are concerns these numbers could soar.
It is believed they have been linked to hundreds of hospital admissions across the UK. It is thought one recent fatality in the Chester area may be linked to the drugs.
A law came into effect in May last year prohibiting the supply and production of the substances and a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) exists in Chester city centre banning their use.
Cllr Louise Gittins, deputy leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “We recognise how harmful these substances can be to people and we commission Turning Point as our substance misuse provider.
“Turning Point prioritises homeless people and provides a range of interventions including one-to-one and group support, access to employment and housing support and peer mentor support, substitute prescribing and needle exchange. These services address the whole range of substance misuse issues, including opiates, alcohol, prescribed medicines and new psychoactive substances.
“In light of the recent increase in incidents within the city, the council and its partners have already increased the number of drop-in sessions they provide to support our more vulnerable residents, and are in the process of developing leaflets offering advice on how to stay safe and seek help. We have increased the intensive outreach work to ensure those who could benefit from help know of the support available to them. We are working with Turning Point, Chester Aid to the Homeless, Foundation Enterprises North West and the Police to do this.
“While it is important that those in need have access to services and support, residents and visitors to Chester must also feel safe. A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which imposes conditions to ensure that residents and visitors to the area can use and enjoy public spaces, safe from anti-social behaviour is already in place. The council and the police are working closely to ensure that those who are supplying these substances understand that this will not be tolerated, and are stopped.”
Chief Inspector Mike Evans, Chester Local Policing Commander, added: “In the past three months we have seen more than 40 reports relating to psychoactive substances. The number of collapses in recent weeks shows that these are really harmful substances, so we are working hard with our key partners to try to tackle the issue. Nobody can ever be sure what is in these substances, which makes them even more dangerous as there is no way of telling how your body will react.
“I would ask anyone with any information regarding where these substances are being sold to contact us via 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.”
Robert Bisset, CEO of charity Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH), said: “The increase in new psychoactive substance misuse in Chester is concerning and I’m pleased that we are all coming together to tackle this for the benefit of some of our most vulnerable people.
“After more than two decades working in the homeless sector this is one of the biggest issues affecting rough sleepers that I’ve seen and they need to know that support is available.”
A spokesperson for Foundation Enterprises North West (FENW), the commissioned provider for rough sleepers and homeless people, said: “We recognise the growing challenges that new psychoactive substances bring both nationally and regionally to our customer group.
“As an organisation we have invested heavily in health and wellbeing initiatives to provide more education, assessment and treatment pathways. We look forwards to continuing and growing this investment to ensure individuals are effectively supported and that we can play a key part in local partnerships to tackle this issue.”
- See full story in the Chester Leader