Lincoln: How to help a city on Spice

Lincoln is a city of beauty, culture and history; of art, kindness and growth. But Lincoln is under attack. Its colourful streets are threatened with a very real darkness. Starkly put, waves of people are crashing through the social system, onto the streets and into a drug-induced stupor – laid bare for all to see but forgotten by modern society.

The unmistakable rise in city centre drug and anti-social behaviour problems has taken its toll on local businesses, families and emergency services. Agitation over often un-policed ‘Spice herds’ and ‘drug tourists’ has hit an all-time high, and addicts themselves are victims to the constant supply streams and support failures.

There has been a visible rise in the number of people using drugs in Lincoln. Photo: Cassie Johnson.

All of this has been delivered in droves to the attention reporters at The Lincolnite, sparking the publication of a special series, diving into the complex issue from a range of perspectives.

This week, business owners told us how drug users have sparked up, injected and made threats with dirty needles outside their premises’, the city council leader echoed lines of power and funding limitations, and the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner said resources were too stretched to round up offenders.

A man on drugs passed out near Brayford Pool on July 19, 2018.

All the while, A&E waiting rooms buckle under the pressure and often untrained volunteers reach out to those in need as more and more fingers appear to point to a lack of mental health and addiction outreach. Disappointingly, the addiction charity partnered with the city’s Operation Applaud network of agencies Addaction has not yet made anyone available to speak to journalists.

The impactful coverage by The Lincolnite has led to promises of more resources from police. But with the launch of a new city Intervention Team of conjoining services expected on Monday, consistent scrutiny and action will need to continue before results can be truly felt.


By numbers

One way to measure the impact on the local community is by the strain faced in hospitals.

The Lincolnite can reveal through a Freedom of Information request that attendance to the Lincoln County Hospital A&E department due to drug and alcohol abuse increased from 1,221 in 2012 to 1,741 in 2017 – more than 40%.

For drug abuse alone, numbers were well into the hundreds:

In 2017 one hospital patient died as a result of substance abuse.


Intervention

On Monday, the City of Lincoln Council Executive will be asked to approve a new dedicated Intervention Team at the cost of £61,000 for a 12 month period. 

Simon Walters, Strategic Director of Communities and Environment at the City of Lincoln Council wrote in the project report:

  • Over nine months in 2016 there were 330 incidents of begging, rough sleeping and addiction-related anti-social behaviour reported to police. In 2017 that rose to 499
  • In February and March 2018 alone there were 106 calls to police – many about health concerns
  • Between April and June 2018 a total of 243 calls were made
  • In almost the same period (March to mid-June) the city council recorded a further 259 incidents relating to their car parks and public toilets
  • Operation Applaud (ASB, Addiction, YMCA, P3 and Framework) reported 174 people who had been rough sleeping for the last couple of years

The report made a particular assessment that an outreach worker was needed for the city centre to make contacts and referrals where necessary – this will be in place as part of the scheme, but the council added more resources are still needed to complete the team.


‘Drug tourists and limited powers’

City of Lincoln Council’s leader Ric Metcalfe admitted that while efforts are being made, the council cannot seize drugs and “other agencies need to contribute funds”. He added the city needed more investment in public services such as mental health and addiction.


Police ‘need intelligence’

Both the county’s police and crime commissioner and the Assistant Chief Constable Kerrin Wilson echoed a “perfect storm of problems” facing policing, arguing they were struggling to keep up with demand with limited resources.

PCC Marc Jones promised to dedicate more officers to Lincoln, but warned they would be coming from elsewhere in the county.

“It might seem logical that we would come along and arrest everybody, but the police cells would just fill up with minor offences and the low level dealers would be quickly replaced.”

Our coverage was responded to by promises by chiefs and arrests on the streets.

Also read: Police vow action over Lincoln street drug taking

Plus: Lincoln teen charged with street drug dealing


MP Karen Lee’s view

Lincoln MP Karen Lee

We spoke to MP for Lincoln Karen Lee to hear her thoughts. She told us: “I’ve been contacted by people who are upset but what they’re seeing and concerned about the situation getting worse. I’ve seen it, people lying around and taking drugs. You can’t miss it.

“It’s not a clever thing and not something you want to see in the city centre in front of families. In the last few weeks I have spoken with agencies, homeless services, police and the council and voiced concerns that have been brought to my attention like the area near the Angel cafe.

“It’s not just about enforcement. A lot of these people are extremely vulnerable and more funding and resources need to go to addiction and mental health services. It’s about tackling the root causes.

“Monday night’s report highlights the need for outreach workers to reach the people who have previously refused help and truly make connections.

“It’s also not just an issue in Lincoln. I spend a lot of my time in London and there are people on every street and lining shop doorways. I usually stop to buy them a bottle of water and a Mars bar.

“The crux of the issue is that this is the result of cuts, cuts and more cuts by the government.

“Cuts have consequences.

“As an opposition MP there is little I can do. But I will speak out from the benches. It all comes down to investment. Cuts are affecting everything from our streets to our NHS and it’s frustrating that so much of the conversation and concentration is on Brexit.

“As MP I will continue to fight on Lincoln’s behalf.”


Bad for business

Several businesses told The Lincolnite that trade is suffering because of the growing problem.

Hear from a city salon and theatre about the intimidating situations they and their customers have faced.


The drugs

A synthetic and highly-addictive group of man-made, cheap and easily accessible cannabinoids (or New Psychoactive Substances) is the poison behind many personal crisis’, police, ambulance and social service callouts.

They go by names like Spice, and their consumption is strikingly blatant in shop doorways, alleys and the High Street daily, in broad daylight and often in front of children.

They’re nothing new, in fact before they were outlawed they were sold shops across the city as ‘legal highs’. Before the ban was enforced, we spoke to a teen addict about the effects, and even a head shop owner who said she didn’t agree with them but had no problem selling them.

NPS have been an illegal class B drug since 2016. It is against the law to produce, supply, possess with intent to supply or import and the maximum sentence for offences is seven years imprisonment.

Lincoln made history by becoming the first city in the UK to ‘ban’ NPS though at the time the move was branded ‘not enforceable’ by a recognised policing expert. 

Lincoln is not alone. Cities across the UK have fallen victim to invasions of users, often dismissively dubbed ‘zombies’ due to side effects.

Take a look back at our interview last year with a former addict about the effect NPS had on his life. 


What can you do?

READ: What to do if you see someone on spice

Need help?

If you need support with drug or alcohol addiction, or know somebody who needs support, these services can help.

One of the most important things you can do to stop the supply of drugs into Lincoln is to put a stop to production and supply. If you have any information or intelligence about drug dealing in the city, you should call Lincolnshire Police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues covered by The Lincolnite this week, you can reach the newsroom by emailing [email protected]

Credit to reporters: