The government is currently reviewing the Class B classification of monkey dust, but in Stoke-on-Trent the situation is critical. Stacey Foster reports
Words by ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Stacey Foster and producer Iram Sarwar
In 2016, there were concerns about its prevalence in the city after police released footage of people, believed to be under the influence of monkey dust, behaving in extreme ways.
Experts described an “epidemic” in the city and the media labelled Stoke as the monkey dust capital of the UK.
Now, a decade after it was first recognised, drugs suspected to be “dust,” seized by Staffordshire Police, will finally be tested to understand why Stoke-on-Trent seems to have such a problem with monkey dust.
ITV News was given exclusive access to the lab at Staffordshire University where samples of monkey dust confiscated on the streets will be sent to establish what chemicals and other substances are being mixed to create this dust.
This research will allow experts to understand what might be causing certain behaviours in drug users and whether there are different batches of supply containing different cutting agents.
Monkey dust is a synthetic cathinone known as MDPHP. It is a lab-made drug. It is cheaper to buy than alcohol, typically £2 for a "hit", and there is no known replacement to help people withdraw from taking it.
While we were at the lab we saw Jodie Dunnett and her team at the university take delivery of the first 20 samples of dust, which they will work to test over the next few months. The work will inform the Home Office, which is currently reviewing the classification of MDPHP and other synthetic cathinones.
Should monkey dust be a class A drug?
Currently, monkey dust is a class B drug which carries a punishment of up to 14 years in prison for supply.
The government is currently reconsidering whether to reclassify the drug as Class A, which would carry a life sentence for suppliers.
Jodie Dunnett is leading the investigation into monkey dust
ITV News saw first hand the impact of monkey dust, with users in Stoke-on-Trent telling us that they are “mentally addicted”.
Emily, who has been homeless for five weeks, said she could obtain dust for us almost immediately because it is so readily available.
She said: “I take it because I can”. Emily used to work as a chef but explained how her life had spiralled since her mother died and she miscarried twins.
Another user, Simon, who used to work as a plumber, was sat in the middle of the road when we met him.
Car horns were beeping for him to get off the carriageway but he didn’t seem phased. When he came to the pavement, he agreed to sit and chat with us.
He told me he’d not taken his first pipe of the day, but I’m not sure whether that was the truth. He said the reason he takes monkey dust is for the "high".
Steve explained that he had been arrested as a child and incarcerated. He’s been taking monkey dust for 15 years. Asked if he was receiving help, he said he’d recently got a room in a hostel but he had been in a fight and had a black eye.
Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Staffordshire University, was asked to carry out a study by the local city council to understand the lived experience of monkey dust users.
They spoke to 13 people who used monkey dust.
Ms Page said: “It is clear from this recent research that alleged ‘monkey dust’ usage in Stoke-on-Trent remains somewhat in pockets of the city, rather than wide scale.
"However, it is also apparent that the impacts of the drug on people are significant and can include psychotic episodes.”
“Better access for mental health treatment, including safe spaces for when someone is under the influence and struggling with their mental health, is needed. Stigma needs to be challenged, and support increased, because those using ‘monkey dust’ tend to be experiencing multiple disadvantages and need help.”
Why is monkey dust so prevalent in Stoke-on-Trent?
Stoke is in the top 20% of most deprived areas in the country, while a report by Citizens Advice and Staffordshire University has highlighted the impact of the cost of living crisis and austerity cuts on people living in the city.
It said thousands of families are being pushed to the brink because of cuts to health and social services, leading to increased poverty, destitution and homelessness in the area.
Emergency services have described the use of the drug as "an epidemic," taking up a huge amount of time for police and paramedics.
As part of the new National Drug Strategy, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has received additional grant funding of just over five million pounds from April 2022 to March 2024, to improve drug and alcohol treatment.
The money is being used to provide more support for drug services, which have been heavily cut.
But this latest research, which has already been sent to the Home Office, suggests that while reclassification may disrupt supply, what is really needed is more permanent funding to help drug users to enable them to reintegrate back into society.
Do you or someone you know need support for drug addiction?
The NHS and several nationwide charities offer a variety of support for people struggling with drug addiction.
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