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Tagged In:  Drugs

Spice, the umbrella term for a variety of synthetic cannabis products often described as new psychoactive substances (NPS), still feature in the news as having threatened the lives of those who have taken it, but perhaps what’s less known about is the problems it is causing inside the prison estate. 

We were not at all surprised to hear that NPS use has quickly become the drug of choice for some prisoners. After all, it was only earlier this year that the National Offender Management Service confirmed an increase in NPS use amongst prisoners and that it is likely to have been one of the main causes of the increased number of attacks on prison staff. 

The challenges are particularly acute in prisons, as not only is it odourless, it is untraceable by way of a routine drugs test. Of course, substance misuse professionals working with prisoners are developing strategies and interventions that respond to the needs of their service users all the time, but what are the specific challenges presented by NPS?

Reading the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust’s (RAPt) four-part briefing on ‘Tackling the New Psychoactive Substances in prisons’, we’ve gleaned a useful insight into why the challenges are much more acute and what the trust is proposing by way of a solution. 

The most common type of Spice products used in prisons are Black Mamba or Clockwork Orange, with prison seizures having increased from 15 in 2010 to around 737 in 2014. It’s not surprising that the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in an interview with prisoners in 2014 found that many were regularly taking NPS, with 20% of prisoners who use Spice reporting feeling addicted to it. 

Between April – June 2015, RAPt reports having received details of 54 serious NPS related incidents across 9 different prisons, the majority of which have been linked to Spice. So how is RAPt responding to the challenge?

Well, it’s wasted no time in implementing a strategy for addressing the persistent and evolving issue of NPS use across the prison estate where it delivers substance misuse services. It has adopted an approach that is largely in line with Public Health England’s recent NEPTUNE Guidelines (2015) on NPS to refine the advice it gives to prisoners. 

RAPt is adamant that with the right support, a tailored NPS recovery programme can expect a similar level of success and engagement as programmes designed for those addicted to traditional drugs. 

Perhaps the most innovative proposals, and one that could work well with the re-design of the prison estate, which we talked about in last week’s blog, is the development of RAPt calls Drug Recovery Wings (DRWs) for which a new modern prison estate would be more conducive. 

Creating DRWs that are completely drug free, staffed by a dedicated substance misuse team who are trained in recovery, are the order of the day for RAPt in its latest policy briefing, but the long-term success of such a programme would also be dependent on the through-the-gate support that offenders receive from probation and other partner agencies. The approach would need to see some sort of extended support offered outside the prison estate, especially since NPS will still be legal up until April 2016 when the new legislation comes in.  

It will be interesting then, in the months to come, to hear what Justice Secretary Michael Gove has to say about the role prisons and the broader criminal justice system will play in effectively helping offenders through recovery. 

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