Better training and information sharing between agencies needed to support offenders addicted to synthetic drugs - HM Chief Inspector of Probation

Lack of training and knowledge means probation officers are not adequately
assessing risks to children and others from offenders addicted to synthetic
drugs such as Spice, according to a report from HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Launching the report, Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation,
said work to tackle the prevalence, impact and treatment of ‘New
Psychoactive Substances’, particularly synthetic cannabis, was lagging
behind their use by offenders in the community.

The report follows an inspection by HMI Probation (HMI Probation) and the
Care Quality Commission (CQC) in five major cities. Inspectors were
particularly concerned that risks to children were not fully assessed.

The report noted: “We saw case records where responsible officers (front-line
probation officers) were aware that service users (offenders) who reported
using NPS daily were on their way to see their children. Such safeguarding
concerns had not been sufficiently analysed.

“Worryingly, probation providers did not routinely consider the risks
associated with NPS use to groups such as children, staff, prisoners or the
wider community, despite there being enough known about the unpredictable
behaviour that could be displayed by those using the drugs.”

The report makes clear that NPS use is still relatively limited compared to
abuse of alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, it notes
that offenders under probation obtain Spice and other NPS because they are
cheap and difficult to detect in tests.

The unpredictable behaviour of those on NPS is captured in stark detail in the
report. One offender told inspectors: “It’s rife and easy to get, I used it ‘coz
cannabis can be detected but Spice can’t be tested for. It’s the pound shop
brown. I am seeing a lot of it, especially with the homeless. When they have
been using alcohol as well you can see that they are drunk with slurred
speech but when they use Spice it takes over them. Spice is going to destroy
this world”.

One probation officer said: “People are crazy when they are under the
influence, one confused me for a fire hose when he was under the influence”.
Dame Glenys said records on NPS were poor but “such records that are kept
show that NPS are used largely by the homeless community and by other
vulnerable people, including those who offend. Many offenders first
experience NPS in prison and are then released with a dependency.”

Inspectors found that services tended to deal with the emergencies created by
NPS use rather than addressing the long-term causes. An exception was
found in Newcastle, where Northumbria Police took a lead role with other
agencies to tackle the supply of NPS and understand and respond to local

However, many NPS users were not accessing available services. All the
individuals whose cases were inspected were known either to have used or be
currently using NPS, yet probation assessments lacked sufficient information
to explore the pattern, level and funding of NPS use. Many users experienced
problems with housing, mental health and relationships and finances but
responsible officers rarely identified this. These people ended up sleeping
rough in an environment where NPS were easy to obtain and frequently used.
Overall, Dame Glenys said:

“We found that probation staff and even some substance misuse service
staff had a low level of awareness of NPS. Screening tools for identifying
drug use were not geared to NPS. Probation staff did not have structured,
in-depth training about NPS and how to deal with dependency, and lacked
the confidence and knowledge to quantify the problem and to address it.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:
1. The report is available at at 00.01 on
Wednesday 29 November 2017.
2. The report – New Psychoactive Substances: the response by probation and
substance misuse services in the community in England – looked at probation cases
in Hackney and Tower Hamlets in London, Newcastle, Leicester, Brighton and Bristol.
3. The National Probation Service supervises those who pose the highest risk of harm
to the community. Private CRCs supervise those assessed as medium or lower risk.
See Appendix 2 at page 44 of the report for details of the inspected CRCs and
National Probation Service divisions.
4. The joint HMI Probation and Care Quality Commission team carried out inspections in
May and June 2017.
5. The report includes some images of NPS which have been seized and examples of
public information sheets.
6. For further information please contact John Steele, HMI Probation Chief
Communications Officer, on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 78745, or at