Record Number Of UK Prisoners Seeking Help For Addiction To Synthetic Drugs

By Paul Gaita 12/09/15

The presence of synthetic drugs in UK prisons has skyrocketed in recent years.

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More than 600 prison inmates in the United Kingdom sought help over a six-month period in 2015 for addiction to synthetic drugs and other legally manufactured psychoactive substances that fall under the categorization of “new psychoactive substances” (NPS).

The number is seven times greater than the number of inmates who sought help for addiction during the same months in 2014, according to a report from the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), which supports drug and alcohol dependency in both the prison and civilian communities. Their findings also revealed that NPS was linked to 54 incidents involving harm caused to prison officers, other inmates, or individuals who harmed themselves while under the influence of these drugs. The substance most frequently cited in these incidents is “spice,” which can refer to various forms of synthetic cannabinoids.

A number of legal and social agencies, including RAPt and the Prison Officers Association (POA) have reported that the presence of NPS in the UK prison system has skyrocketed over the course of the last half-decade. The National Offender Management service found that seizures of NPS in prison had risen from 15 in 2010 to 737 in 2014, while a 2014 report from Cambridge University stated that 20% of prisoners were addicted to spice or some form of NPS. Synthetic substances were also a factor in at least 19 prisoner deaths between 2012-14, according to findings from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

These numbers have prompted RAPt to call for dedicated recovery wings in every U.K. prison. The organization oversees 26 such wings, which have so far aided more than 200 inmates in overcoming drug addiction through “intensive rehabilitation treatment to get prisoners free from drugs, and ultimately, free from crime,” according to RAPt chief executive Mike Trace.

Currently, only 3% of prisoners in the U.K. has access to RAPt’s treatment program. The Department of Health is currently evaluating a pilot program of drug wings in 11 prisons across the U.K., which should be completed in April 2016.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.