Kinder Eggs have been around since the 70’s, giving kids a toy surprise once they crack open the chocolate shell. In 2016, prisoners have showed an unexpected interest in the sweet, and the surprise is now drugs.
Use of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in prisons is on the rise, and this means the smuggling of them is too. As children’s toys filled with Mamba and Spice are finding their way into prisons, alongside letters soaked in the chemicals, it’s time we question what power authorities have over this illicit trade, which is causing an increase in violence and emergency hospital visits for inmates across the UK.
Legal highs in the UK are now banned under the Psychoactive Substances Bill. Earlier this year, headshops were forced to stop trading, and attempts to sell the drug could land you with a seven year prison sentence.
Sold under names such as “mamba” and “spice” these chemicals mimic the effects of traditional drugs such as cannabis and cocaine. NPS have caused the deaths of more than 100 people in the UK last year and are thought to be taken by more than 650,000 15-24 year olds. The psychoactive substances bill has given power to police to take and destroy any NPS they find, and traders have been warned that if they don’t cease selling they could face jail.
Whilst the legislation was created in response to the fact that school children could visit their local shop after school and buy a drug that causes blackouts and seizers, some people think the government will fail to control NPS, and are instead driving them underground into the hands of criminal gangs.
One place where this is most evident is inside UK’s prisons – a place where government drug control is a distant fantasy. The use of legal highs has soared in prisons over the past three years and in the past year, people needing support for problems related to NPS has risen from 87 to 622.
A HM Chief Inspectorate of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, from December 2015, found that 15% of inmates tested positive for drugs.
Yet because new psychoactive substances don’t show up in urine drug tests, which is part of the reason why they are so popular, it’s impossible to know the real number of prisoners who are using.
Mamba caused so many inmates at HMP Altcourse in Merseyside to have a psychotic episode and need hospitalisation after smoking that ambulances have earnt the nickname “Mambulances” on the inside.
Spice and Black Mamba are synthetic cannabinoids which have become prisoner’s favourites, as not only do they help prisoners keep clean records, they are also easy to find and give a very powerful high.
Max Daly, journalist specialising in drugs and author of Narcomania, said: “No one really smokes cannabis inside jail anymore and the reason spice is so popular is because it is very potent and very cheap to buy on the outside.
It has always been the slightly nullifying narcotic drugs that people have gone for. Nobody really does coke or speed because that’s the last thing you want to be doing if you are in a cell; jumping up and down like a flea.”
As with any illicit trade, criminals have took advantage of the demand for artificial cannabis. A HM Inspectorate report of HMP Nottingham in February 2016, found that 56% of prisoners thought that smuggling drugs into prison was a relatively simple task. And people have developed very inventive ways of maintaining a steady supply of Spice and Mamba to inmates.
One regular offender gives a new meaning to the “Kinder Surprise” kid’s toy, and runs a business of his own, making a substantial profit, too. If he buys Mamba worth £150 on the streets, he can sell the same stash for £3000 to inmates. The Liverpool Echo reported in 2014 that an ounce alone could be sold for more than £4000 in Walton jail.
This regular offender is frequenting prison, surprisingly, out of choice.
He, and many others, would be “brought” for their services, and given money when they leave on licence, to buy some Spice or Mamba on the streets. He would fill Kinder Eggs with these synthetic variations of cannabis and insert them up his rectum, often using five eggs, stuffed with up to an ounce each.
The next step is simple; get deliberately arrested and avoid the drug searches on the way back in.
Max said: “You can understand immediately why people are smuggling it in because not only do they use it themselves but they can make shit loads of money out of it.”
In yet another creative process, people are liquefying the drugs and soaking ordinary looking paper in them; sending them to beloved inmates disguised as children’s paintings or letters. In Wolverhampton, Prof Jonathan Berg found an 8 sheet letter- with only one page of writing but multiple pages containing Synthetic Cannabinoids, cocaine mimic ‘Ethylphenidate’, meth mimic ‘Methiopropamine’ and an hallucinogenic.
Whilst prisoners are licking this paper, the effects are as unpredictable as the concentration is.
Legal highs haven’t been tested for their effects, so people who take them are acting as human guinea pigs, unaware of what is happening to their bodies or minds when they take them. In the HM Inspectorate report of HMP Nottingham, where NPS are a ‘significant problem’, 61% of inmates said they had felt unsafe at some point, which “was one of the highest figures.” The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons also announced that: “Drug use was linked to gang activity and debt.”
Increased violence in prisons may be related to increased demand for NPS- and dependence which leaves people desperate for their next fix.
Max said: “There is a bit like a street drug trade in prisons where there are people getting into trouble and debt because they can’t ‘pay-up’.”
Violence isn’t the only problem; prisoner’s health is at risk too.
The popularity of the drug has been turned into a “game” in these prisons, with one ex-prisoner stating that they sometimes have competitions where ‘if you can smoke a whole ounce without collapsing you get the ounce for free.’
Drugs being used as entertainment is understandable in a prison environment, where boredom and disconnection from the real world is high.
Max blames this boredom culture for causing a spike in use of NPS.
He said: “They are just bored out of their skull and are so keen to get out of it. It’s the same reason bored teenagers in small towns get out of it. Historically there has always been drugs in prisons and if it not going to be spice it’s going to be something else.
People will never ever stop drugs going into jails. We all know drug smugglers are geniuses at thinking up ways of getting drugs from A to B so the only way of preventing this is by stopping them being so bored.”
He says that teaching them skills and getting them to do meaningful things will keep them occupied and also reduce chances of reoffending.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous spoke at an Addaction conference on NPS a few months back, and claimed that prison healthcare is being improved: “I want prisoners to be fully occupied with work that means something to their future. I’m embarrassed at the number of ambulances that are being called to prisons because of Spice.”
He discussed plans for more education and workshops in nine new prisons and also to install CCTV in shady corners where bullying and drug taking goes unseen.
Max says the potent smell of Spice means officers know it’s being smoked: “The prison officers know what’s going on but they, as usual with drugs, generally ignore it. So this is causing severe problems in prisons because people are collapsing from the effects of the drug, almost overdosing.”
The problem is that critics claim that the new ban won’t act as harm prevention, protecting these prisoners. Max said: “Street dealers will start selling it, prisoners will still be coming out and buying it off their mates because prisoners know who is selling them. The headshops closing will make no difference whatsoever.”
Ex-offender Liam, from Wolverhampton, pegs prison as a violate environment for getting into these legal highs. He stated: “I was smoking cannabis for 14 years then I went to prison and had no cannabis, so started smoking Mamba, liked it, got out and here it is in the town where I’ve moved to.”
Why are NPS so popular in the UK compared to the rest of Europe? Spain, in particular, is still facing problems with coke, heroin and cannabis, whereas NPS are hardly popular.
Anna, a criminal defence lawyer, said: “The hard drugs are the problem because Spain is the European door from Morocco or South America.”
Spain acts a gateway for drugs to enter Europe, because of its many coasts, such as the Galician coats in the north.
Just last month, a boat was seized with 500 kilos of cocaine, whilst another was found with double that amount. In terms of cannabis, this is arriving every single day from the South of Spain.
These charts provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction show how Spain is the main trafficking route for cocaine in Europe and is also the country where the most Resin is seized – leaving little need for a NPS trade.