Prison spice epidemic 'putting nurses at risk' as lingering fumes are getting them high, union warns

Healthcare staff report passing out and being unable to drive after treating patients in cells full of psychoactive smoke

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 15 May 2018 00:08 BST
The use of spice by inmates in British prisons has become widespread
The use of spice by inmates in British prisons has become widespread (Getty)

Leading nurses have warned healthcare staff in prisons are being put at risk by entering cells before fumes from the notorious synthetic drug spice have cleared.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says nurses and healthcare assistants are often the first people on the scene when responding to medical emergencies involving inmates.

However, at least one prison nurse has been taken to A&E after being left unconscious from breathing in the psychoactive smoke.

One nurse reported feeling light headed and unable to drive home after inhaling the fumes while trying to treat patients, saying they recently been dealing with around 50 cases a week.

“Walking back after attending to a patient, I've suddenly felt dizzy, nauseous, it's almost like the world has zoomed out,” the nurse said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“It's really bizarre. I've sat in my car in the car park for 50 minutes after work so I feel confident enough to drive.

“We're all worried about driving in case it's not safe or we get stopped and it shows in our system.

“If this happened in a hospital, there would be uproar and investigation after investigation. I feel like it's being swept under the carpet. There's not enough being done.”

Spice is not a single drug but a group of synthetic chemicals designed to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the main psychoactive components of natural cannabis.

Many strains are more potent than the marijuana they aim to imitate, earning the nickname “the zombie drug” due to its often devastating effect on users.

Use of the substance by inmates in the UK has become widespread, with some experts attributing the drug’s popularity in part for the rising levels of violence in Britain’s prisons.

“Spice poses a serious threat to nurses, healthcare assistants and prison staff, whose safety and long-term health is being put at risk day in, day out,” said Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN.

“As dedicated health professionals, prison nursing staff are expected to offer high quality care, but they should not be expected to put their own wellbeing on the line to deliver it.

“We would like to see an urgent review of the guidance that properly reflects the risks posed by this extremely dangerous drug.”

Additional reporting by PA

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