Spice, a synthetic cannabinoid available for as little as £2, which takes effect within five to ten minutes and lasts for up to five hours, leaves users either collapsed on pavements or in a zombie-like upright position.
The drug was re-designated as a Class B substance and although people who are found with the drug on them can be arrested for possession, users often ingest quickly.
According to police figures, just 20 incidents of spice abuse were reported in Barnsley town centre in 2017, something which grew to 136 last year.
A police report said: “There has been little change in the nature of the drugs market over the last few years, with the exception of synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as spice.
“Barnsley has seen the use of spice reduced, although further analysis needs to be undertaken in relation to the reasons for this.
“In the last year, 82 per cent of organised crime members were linked to drug-related activity including the supply, cultivation and importation.
“In 2018 there was a ten per cent increase in arrests for drug-related offences on the previous year’s figures, which is a result of proactive policing and increased detection rates, leading to prosecutions.”
Increased stop and searches, as well as a public space protection order (PSPO) which prevents abusers from entering the town centre have been hailed as a success.
The 21-month prison term given to a ‘key spice distributor’ - 27-year-old Timothy Wood - in May has also had a knock-on effect on reports, according to police.
South Yorkshire Police received 1,174 calls from members of the public in the town last year expressing concerns for people believed to have taken spice in the public realm and, in 80 per cent of those cases, an ambulance was required to attend.
Sergeant Matt Wood, from the town centre-based policing team, told the Chronicle: “Spice has been easy to get hold of and it’s cheap. Cocaine habits can cost hundreds of pounds a day but spice is obviously a lot less.
“The town centre’s PSPO does help to move users on, something which we’ve seen recently, but it doesn’t assist us with tackling the suppliers.
“It’s one of our key priorities and we will continue to work towards stopping the distribution of spice. Stop and searches and the targeting of dealers will continue in order to make Barnsley town centre safer for everyone.”
Meetings have also taken place with Barnsley Council officers responsible for the commissioning of substance misuse services, while a councillors’ scrutiny panel recommended that the borough’s schools deliver more health education classes - with an emphasis on spice - which are set to come into force from September 2020.
A council spokesperson added: “As part of its work programme, the overview and scrutiny committee agreed to undertake a task and finish group investigation into substance misuse in Barnsley.
“Given the heightened profile of substance misuse both locally and nationally, the committee felt it was an opportune time to undertake work in this area.
“While we recognise the importance of substance misuse prevention work being delivered in schools it should be noted that as a council we have no direct control over how schools choose to deliver the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum.
“However, we are working with school leaders to influence the content of the curriculum through a PSHE network.
“The officer leading on this piece of work will continue to work in partnership with the Barnsley Schools Alliance and other key partners to highlight the importance of substance misuse prevention and education and will feedback progress as this work develops.”
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