It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I, too, congratulate Ben Bradley on securing this morning’s debate.
In recent years, Spice has been a growing problem in my constituency, particularly around the town centres, which, as we have heard this morning, is common across the country. The health and wellbeing impact on those taking such substances is a major concern, and there is a wider concern for their families and those in the community who witness the effect on individuals and the social impact on our towns and villages, with many users being in a zombie-like state. Seeing individuals in that state is unnerving and sometimes frightening for members of the public, and some have told me that they feel uneasy walking through our town centres. Again, other Members have highlighted similar experiences this morning. Clearly, the situation has to be tackled.
Residents have raised the matter with me in both Merthyr Tydfil and in Rhymney. I have discussed its impact with both South Wales and Gwent police, who each cover a part of my constituency. It is clear that Spice, like most drugs, destroys lives and has a major and negative impact on our communities. As we know, “Spice” is the common name for what we are discussing this morning: synthetically produced substances, commonly known as synthetic cannabinoids as they were originally thought to mimic the effects of cannabis. However, recent studies on how those substances react with the brain show that they bind to a combination of receptors, making their effects much more unpredictable and dangerous.
I am concerned about how easy it appears to be for individuals to obtain such substances and about the fact that they are seen as a stepping stone to other, harder substances. Although Spice is a class B drug, users describe it as “green crack”. Merthyr Tydfil has seen an increase in acquisitive crime, particularly shoplifting, to fund Spice habits. In my constituency, both police forces are doing their best to tackle this growing problem. Over the summer, South Wales police worked proactively in and around Merthyr Tydfil town centre with a range of partner agencies, which had positive results with a marked reduction in cases. I will share some thoughts on what has been done locally.
A multi-agency approach to dealing with Spice has been developed, predominantly for Merthyr Tydfil town centre. The approach attempts to break the cycle of possession and offending, with education, health, housing and drug and alcohol referral agencies participating in the pilot. The strategy has been twofold: first, support for users and prevention; secondly, disruption and detection of suppliers. The work has involved partner agencies such as Drugaid, Dyfodol, housing associations and various departments in the local authority basing themselves in the centre of Merthyr Tydfil. Users found in possession were taken to the services available to them to meet their acute needs as an alternative to prosecution. It proved extremely effective in identifying a number of individuals who were experiencing differing levels of vulnerability. It was coupled with robust action taken when dealers were identified.
I want to thank and congratulate both South Wales and Gwent police and the other agencies on their work on the pilot scheme. However, clearly, as we all know, police resources are tight. With police numbers much lower than they were just a few years ago, the police’s ability to continually mount such operations is limited. In addition, there are financial pressures on local authorities and other public agencies, meaning that they are less able to react and deal with the issues effectively. More therefore needs to be done to support the police and communities in my constituency and across the country to tackle the problem.
A review of the drugs policy would be a good start to finding a way forward to tackle the growing impact of drugs. I hope that today’s debate will allow the Government to consider what more can be done. I ask the Minister specifically to consider what action he can take to assist the police, other agencies and the wider community to help tackle this growing problem. We need the Government to be on top of their game in dealing with a problem that blights my community and many others across the country.