As the spread of coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life across the UK, there has been an unexpected knock-on effect for Manchester’s drug trade. The Manchester Evening News understands that Spice, the so-called ‘zombie’ drug that has plagued the city’s streets since it was made illegal in 2016, is becoming difficult to get hold of.
Spice is widely used within the homeless population. Its high potency, low price, and ability to be easily hidden make it an attractive drug for those living on the streets. The drug contributed to 60 deaths in 2018.
Spice is actually a synthetic cannabinoid that is rolled up and smoked like a cigarette. It is manufactured in laboratories in China and imported to the UK by criminal gangs. But China’s economy has now virtually shut down as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. Authorities have closed factories across the country in a bid to contain the outbreak, meaning exports have plummeted.
Many UK businesses who import from China are experiencing problems with supply as a result, including drug dealers it would seem. Manchester Evening News has been informed that Spice users are reporting a significant drop-off in its availability.
“The dealers can’t get hold of it because of what’s going on in China – everyone’s saying it”, one source told the newspaper.
However, fewer instances of drug users ‘frozen’ in the streets of the city centre may not be positive news.
Users may switch to other drugs
Dr Rob Ralphs, Reader in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, has been investigating Spice for the last 3 years and has also heard the rumours about Spice supply. If it does turn out to be true, authorities will need to be prepared, he said.
“The one thing you can be sure of, if there’s no Spice it won’t stop people using substances. A lot of people who take Spice are poly drug users so they might switch back to heroin, or top up on prescription drugs.”
In addition, Dr Ralphs warned about the withdrawal consequences. “People who’ve used Spice, and have 10 or 15 years of dependence on substances, consistently say it is the worst withdrawal”, he said.
Another worrying prospect is what may happen in prisons if Spice supply suddenly dries up. The drug is among the most frequently smuggled in, as it can be sprayed onto a piece of paper, and has been linked to a rise in violent attacks against both staff and fellow inmates.
“If Spice is in short supply in prison, they can’t readily access other substances”, said Dr Ralphs. “It would have much more of an impact in a prison environment.”