ITV Central reporter Lois Swinnerton reports on the findings of a team in Staffordshire looking into why people are taking the drug and how they can be helped
Users of monkey dust have described how it "messes with the brain" and makes people "run and hide in trees all night", as a new report has shone a light on what's been described as an epidemic in Stoke-on-Trent.
The drug, which is a man-made psychoactive substance, has been prevalent in the city for a number of years.
A report by the Centre for Health Development (CHAD), Staffordshire University, and Expert Citizens Community Interest Company looking into how and why the drug is used has found more needs to be learnt about the relatively new substance, and more needs to be done to help those whose lives have ben ruined by addiction to it.
Thirteen people with experience of using monkey dust told researchers that they found it easy to get hold of the drug, either online or from a local drug dealer.
They said it gave a "powerful high", and was "mentally addictive" or an "obsession" rather than a physical addiction which would cause them to experience withdrawal symptoms from the drug.
The effects they described were paranoia and psychosis, saying it "messes with the brain", making it "hard to know what’s real".
Some talked about examples of when they had seen it “change people”, seeing them "run and hide in trees all night".
Another person described taking monkey dust as part of their "self-medicating" and trying to strike a balance with their mental health, saying it "numbs the pain".
Researchers also spoke to a focus group with nine people from concerned or affected communities, as well as 17 professionals to discuss the impact of monkey dust use on services.
Recommendations from the report suggests more research needs to be carried out into the chemical makeup of the drug, the different usage patterns, and the effect it has on people.
The authors also say there needs to be more awareness of the support services available to those affected by monkey dust use, and that there needs to be a bespoke support programme available to those who take the drug.
Chief Superintendent Colin Mattinson from Staffordshire Police says that they see the offenders as those supplying monkey dust, rather than the users - who are considered vulnerable and need understanding and support.
What is 'monkey dust'?
Monkey dust is a synthetic psychoactive drug, chemically similar to amphetamines.
It's a slang term for the substance which is also known as MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and is a stimulant that produces a powerful rush of energy and euphoria.
The drug is usually snorted or smoked, and has become popular in certain areas because it's relatively cheap, particularly compared to other illicit drugs.
It first came to prevalence in the UK as a 'legal' alternative to banned drugs, and was sold on the internet as 'not for human consumption' - as plant food for example - to get around the law.
But the UK government banned it, and it is now a Class B Drug, although there are calls for it to be upgraded to Class A.
What are its effects?
According to UK Addiction Treatment Centres, monkey dust affects can be intense and long-lasting, with a powerful high lasting up to 12 hours.
In addition to the euphoric effects, it can cause hallucinations, paranoia, irrational behaviour, and serious increases in aggression and violent tendencies.
This may be because monkey dust can cause serotonin levels in the brain to drop, leading to the user experiencing a lack of control over their own behaviour.
Addiction to the drug can also be extremely damaging physically and mentally. A lethal overdose can occur with as little as 3-5 milligrams.
Extended use can lead to heart problems and kidney damage, cause extreme paranoia and agitation.
Why is monkey dust prevalent in Stoke-on-Trent?
The city of Stoke-on-Trent has long been the centre of the monkey dust epidemic.
The city is one of the most deprived places in the country, which may well be a factor in the popularity of a drug, which it is thought could be as little as £2 per hit.
The prevalence in Stoke-on-Trent first hit the headlines around 2018, with West Midlands Ambulance Service and Staffordshire Police reporting an increased number of incidents of people committing crimes, or becoming ill after taking the drug.
It began to make headlines in the national press, with videos emerging showing people in a zombie-like state, hallucinating, and some people believing they had super-human abilities.
And the problem hasn't gone away in the five years since.
In the past year alone, ITV News Central has reported on:
- The robbers who poured petrol on their victim and threatened to set her on fire, while high on monkey dust.
- The mum, high on the drug, who wrongly believed her abusive former partner had been freed from prison, and in a panic, set fire to a residential building.
A former plumber who lost his job and house, and now lives rough, sleeping in a tent in Stoke-on-Trent, says the drug ruined his life. He says it should be classified as Class A due to how addictive it is.
Staffordshire Police has said it supports exploring the reclassification of the drug, and says it has a "dedicated operation aimed at disrupting the supply of monkey dust and safeguarding those vulnerable to associated anti-social behaviour and criminality."
The government is currently reviewing whether monkey dust should be upgraded from Class B to Class A.
How to find help and support if you or someone you know is seeking treatment for drug addiction:
The NHS recommends seeking help from your GP.
Visit the Frank website to find support near you. If you're having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600.
Self-help, support groups like UKNA (Narcotics Anonymous).
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...