John Harris

Journalist & Author

Spice: a lethal epidemic fuelled by austerity | John Harris

The prevalence of this debilitating drug shows that society has reached a precipitous moment of decay

At first I thought he might be dead. The man was no older than 40, and dressed in a huge beige parka: he had stumbled on to an almost empty town square, wobbled on his feet and then collapsed. For a while, he lay completely motionless, his arms outstretched and his knees folded into his chest. People walked by, showing barely a flicker of interest. He then swayed to his feet, before crashing back down again. This time he hit his head on the concrete, and the hideous crack it made was enough to bring people to his aid, before he seemed to assure them that he would be all right, and uncertainly shuffled away again.

I was in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster – though it could have been any number of places where the street drug known as spice has entered the lives of people living on society’s edges, sowing anxiety and fear. Over the summer, stories of the drug and its users seemed to reach a critical point – in Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffield, Wrexham, Hull, Lincoln and Mansfield. At the end of August, a group of Conservative police and crime commissioners said that spice represented the “most severe public health issue we have faced in decades”, and demanded that, three years after it was made illegal, it be moved from class B to class A status, the same as heroin and cocaine. Three weeks ago, the Daily Mirror splashed that Britain “is in the grip of a spice epidemic”.

Related: Huge rise in ambulance callouts to deal with spice users

Related: How spice, ‘the zombie drug’, is devastating communities

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