Social Responsibility

‘Spice’: criminal or medical issue?

Wed, 20 Mar 2019 15:50:00 GMT

Recently released figures claim that 95% of homeless people in and around Manchester are users of the synthetic cannabinoid, ‘Spice’. The devastating effects of the use of the drug, predominantly used to escape the harsh realities of life on the streets, are hitting our headlines more than ever.

Dr Jo Neill, Professor of Psychopharmacology within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health has initiated work alongside other major organisations, and individuals such as David Nutt – a well-known voice on this issue for a number of years- hoping to help reform current UK drug legislation.

She said: “Our drug laws criminalise and marginalise people who are already vulnerable – as an example, Spice has gone through the homeless and prison populations like wildfire”.

To this end, Jo has organised a series of public events at the University, aiming to educate around the harm caused by prohibition and advocating a strong case for the regulation of currently illegal drugs. Keynote speaker at one of the events was Andy Costello from Greater Manchester Police, who traced the start of the widespread use of Spice in our homeless population to May 2016, when the Psychoactive Substances Act were introduced. This made ‘legal highs’ (such as synthetic cannabinoids) illegal, pushing the production and supply to the black market, with devastating effects on the users.

Jo commented: “It’s a similar story with other illegal substances too; drugs have become increasingly adulterated, causing more harm to users, whilst the organised crime groups get ever richer. The war on drugs has been a disaster and that is why I am campaigning to change things”.

Jo believes that the UK Government should follow examples from other countries such as Portugal where decriminalising drugs, and treating addiction as a medical, not a criminal issue, have reduced harm and produced social benefits.

Jo’s initiative supports an evidence-led solution to the clear and sustained failure of UK drugs policy. Through these public symposia, she has brought together key individuals and stakeholders to present the case for reform of UK drug laws and has the support of local MP, Jeff Smith and many others in a cross-party drug law reform group and intends to continue to raise awareness of this challenging problem.

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