Increase in Scottish inmates treated for “zombie drugs” blamed on smoking ban

Barlinnie Prison.
Barlinnie Prison.
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The number of Scottish inmates treated for “zombie drugs” has increased by five times in three years.

A smoking ban in prisons has only made the problem worse – as inmates use government-issued e-cigarette devices to inhale the drugs previously known as “legal highs”.

Last year (2018) alone over 1,600 Scottish prisoners needed medical attention after using psychoactive substances.

And at least 90 prison officers required attention after inhaling their fumes.

So far this year 1,100 inmates have needed medical attention. The number of cases is up more than five times in the last three years.

Officers have passed out because of the fumes in cells where the drugs have been smoked.

One senior officer said: “These highs are being used by most long-term prisoners, and they now massively outnumber those taking heroin or other mainstream drugs.

"The situation has escalated out of control because it is virtually impossible to test what these prisoners have taken."

The drugs can be smuggled into jails on letters or children's drawings which have been soaked in the chemicals. Prisoners only need tiny scraps of paper to get high.

Prison officers say the situation across the country’s jails is already out of control.

One said: “We see prisoners foaming at the mouth and rampaging around with their eyes bulging out of their heads.

"Others look as if they are zombies. They exhibit super-human strength and are just completely out of control - it’s like walking into a zombie apocalypse.

"They don’t feel pain. We've seen then inflicting terrible injuries on themselves and others."

Specially-trained sniffer dogs are being used to try and curb the spread of “zombie drugs” like the substance known as spice.

At least one prisoner has already died after using an illegal substance and then setting himself on fire.

And a nurse has been knocked out after inhaling the unknown chemicals while trying to treat a prisoner.

MSP Neil Findlay (Labour, Lothian) is calling for a government inquiry into the risks new psychoactive substances are having inside jails.

He said: "I've been contacted by prison officers from across Scotland who all have the same concerns and experiences dealing with prisoners under the influence of psychoactive substances, and it’s clear from the figures l have obtained this is becoming a major issue in our overcrowded jails.

“The Scottish Prison Service appear to be unable to react quickly to the situation, and this is putting the health and safety of officers at risk."

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said they are "concerned" about the effects of the psychoactive chemicals on both staff and prisoners.

He said: “People who are habitual cannabis or heroin users know what they are taking. But when anyone takes this stuff. they have no idea what they are taking or how their body will react.

"People can go from being placid to Tasmanian Devil to dead in less than half an hour. That is what is most frightening about these substances.

"They are cheap to manufacture, and there are many ways for them to get inside prisons. We have been using sniffer dogs, electronic detection equipment and have been working very hard with our intelligence network to target those who traffic this stuff.

“lt’s concerning, for prisoners and their long-term health, and for our officers who are having contact with them, because these chemicals can lead to outbursts of extreme violence."

One prison officer said: “I went to check on o prisoner recently because he looked as if he had actually died in his cell, only to collapse myself when I inhaled whatever it was he’d been vaping.

“It’s not the first time this has happened to me, or to other officers.

“Lots of have suffered after-effects, pounding headaches, major spikes in blood pressure and depression from the comedown from involuntarily inhaling these substances.”

Almost 90 prison officers needed medical attention last year. But the Scottish Prison Service has admitted they do not keep records to show how many officers have been hospitalised.

A prison officer at one of Scotland’s most notorious jails said: “This stuff is everywhere, at Edinburgh, Grampian, Lowmoss, Shotts and Perth.

“I’ve passed out several times after going into various cells.

“Because nobody knows what’s in these chemicals, it’s frightening.

“Some of us have joked that we should be given breathing apparatus, but that’s no laughing matter.”