Manchester’s Spice Epidemic – Why the Public are Fuelling the Problem

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Spice has been a problem in Manchester for years. I first heard about it a few years ago when a friend rang me on her lunch break as she walked down market street in Manchester’s city centre after speaking to a group of people living rough on the streets. Offering cigarettes and a friendly chat, they unravelled to her a life filled with hardships and unforgiving passer-by’s, yet significantly, they shed light on the what was (then) ‘new’ and readily available: the cheap and legal high, spice. They told her how the drug was ripping homeless communities apart, selectively picking off their friends one-by-one and turning them into mindless zombies. Yet, they said, it was becoming increasingly difficult to remain abstinent from it.

That was in early 2014. Not a lot has changed since then, apart from the drug has had time to grow in popularity and gain as many helpless victims as possible, despite becoming banned later on. The worst part about spice is that its target audience is already vulnerable. The homeless are constantly looking for ways to numb the agony of a dismal life on the streets, and at five pounds a pop from local newsagents and the freedom to smoke it in public promised a life outside of a prison cell – even if that life is constrained to a hard, concrete floor – you can see why the homeless were quick to indulge in this quick and legally sound escape.

It gained popularity since it was marketed as a synthetic cannabis alternative, promising an altered, relaxed perception and a gentle elevated mood. Only the little-to-none research failed to mention that the effects of spice couldn’t be further from the mellowing effects of marijuana. Unfortunately, the homeless were our guinea pigs for this drug, and this social experiment rapidly unveiled the detrimental effects spice really contained: uncontrollable body spasms, psychotic episodes, hallucinations, trembling addiction, and a zombified catatonic state of misery. The ban came all too late. Our homeless communities were already hooked and – if you know the right people – it is still available to illegally purchase in certain Manchester newsagents. Where there is a demand, there will always be a supplier, and this battle is one the authorities and the GMP are certain to lose now the crisis is catastrophically out of hand.

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Yet the problem correlates to homelessness itself, with people on the streets growing in numbers now by the day due to continuing Tory cuts to welfare. It’s not a new concept for those sleeping rough to numb the pain and seek the next best escape; heroin, crack, and alcohol (to say the least), have all served their time on the streets for being the most popular getaway from reality in certain eras. Spice is the new trend, and – like its predecessors – it serves to remove the individual from his or her excruciating surroundings. The crux of addiction is when a hallucinatory life devoid of reality is better than real life. To us, the mentally stable majority who enjoy coming home to their warm beds and fully stocked fridge, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would choose to live an unconscious walking-dead lifestyle. Only it isn’t a lifestyle. It’s an escape from their lack of one. Those who are quick to shame the homeless for finding vices to escape their brutal lifestyle ought to try living on the streets sober. When society views you as scum and a social parasite, it won’t be long until your mental health deteriorates alongside your physical health and you’ll be begging for anything to block out the infinite suffering.

This is the problem that I find with the general public: a lack of sympathy. Ignoring or criticising the homeless is not going to solve anything, and after years of turning a blind eye only now; now that the problem is effecting their ‘shopping experience’ or morning commute to work with the ‘unsightly’ scenes of spice-taking, have people started to care. But they are caring for all the wrong reasons. They are selfishly caring, viewing the homeless as a stain on our Manchester streets, a spoil to our eyes on a perfect summer’s day. When you can drift through life comfortably, the homeless are that slap-in-the-face reminder that this regime cannot go on, that people are suffering while you are spending. The homeless seeking refuge in doorways and tremoring to the effects of spice are that injection of reality we don’t want to face on a Monday morning or on our ‘well-deserved’ day off. The truth is hard to face but is nonetheless important to take responsibility for: the homeless epidemic that goes hand-in-hand with spice is our problem and our ‘fault’, more so than it is those individuals in this cruel situation. After all, the homeless stopped caring about themselves when society stopped caring about them. But now, the face of homelessness has reared its head to us. Spice has proved to become endemic with its takers desperately pleading for help; it’s about time we instilled faith in humanity once more by showing a little kindness.

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A lot of people are asking what exactly the public can do to help and, really, it’s not a lot when tackling such a huge problem. The M.E.N published an enlightening article you can read here on how to handle someone overdosing and how to follow certain procedures by donating money to charities or volunteering in shelters or soup kitchens. But this doesn’t attack the root cause. We need to appeal to our governments and our local MPs. They need to know that this cannot go on. You need to vote for change. You need to be the voice for those who go on unheard. While the homeless can vote, there’s a lot of hoops to jump through to gain a ballot paper, and without the aid of the internet and its resources, it’s fair to say a lot of the homeless don’t know how or where to go when it comes to voting. Yet this is the result of year after year of welfare cuts that have hammered down onto the poor and vulnerable and pushed them out onto the streets. This is the result of benefits and other welfare support networks being axed. 

The homeless live in darkness, in mental instability and constant pain. In 2017 people should not be forced out onto the streets. We as a society have become so ignorant to this fact that if you haven’t come from affluent backgrounds with supportive parents or you have been unable to find work (which yes, IS clearly a problem), then people don’t deserve a home or money to eat and survive. We have become so selfishly concerned with our own trivial problems and financial stability that self-sacrifice for the benefit of the state is simply unquestionable. Do people not realise that by providing homes and jobs for the homeless, our society and economy will flourish once more?

Homelessness doesn’t have to be a sore sight anymore. Spice doesn’t have to kill our beloved city. But it is and will continue to do so until our attitudes change. Until we open up our arms and recognise that this problem isn’t a choice. Our government has forced this upon us – and it’s about time they heard from us that this is not ok. We cannot accept that in a global superpower, thriving off capitalism and commodities, there are people living on the streets. Manchester has bounced back from many tribulating problems such as 1980s Thatcherism and the 1996 bomb, to say the least. Yet in both instances, the aftermath of such events caused us to rebuild ourselves out of the dust. We survived them and came out stronger than before. We can come through the other side of this, too. We’re a city proud of our northern charm and friendliness. We’re renowned for helping one another. The homelessness in Manchester is, as this writer in the M.E.N points out, a shame on us all. Our voices need to be carried all the way to Westminster, all the way down to number 10 Downing Street. But it will only get there if we shout loud enough. In the meantime, show the homeless some love and kindness, because you never know just how close you are to sharing that doorstep with them someday.

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