There has been an "alarming" seven-fold increase in the number of prisoners seeking help for addiction to legal highs in the last year, a charity has warned.
A total of 622 sought help for addiction to New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in April and September 2015, compared with only 87 in the same months in 2014, according to the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt),
RAPt was told by one inmate that half of prisoners on some jail wings were now taking the NPSs, causing a "distressing" level of violence behind bars.
Between March and May this year, RAPt staff reported 54 "serious incidents" relating to legal highs, including six assaults on prison officers and four on other inmates. Another five resulted in self harm or the prisoner suffering a psychotic episode.
Dan, a 51-year-old who was in prison until October 2014, said "spice", a colloquialism in prison for all legal highs, was more popular among prisoners because they are deemed harder to detect than older, illegal drugs.
He said: “It’s all spice in prison now. It’s only a very few hard core users who persevere with heroin or crack.
"With spice you’re out of your nut all day and it doesn’t show up on drug tests and it’s easily available. On the wings I was on, about half the people were using spice.
“I call it the green crack. I went from smoking a couple of joints a day to quickly smoking significantly more, because the tolerance goes up so quickly.”
"Dan" described seeing people having "spice attacks", saying: “It’s like they were having heart attacks, not knowing where they were, collapsing.
"Men would smoke half a gram in one go. They’d wander out of the cell, and the next thing they’d be on the floor or in health care. A lot would call for their mums.”
Although "spice" is a colloquial term for all NPSs in prison, "Spice" is also the name for a synthetic form of cannabis that is the most common type of NPS taken there.
Synthetic cannabis, sold under different brand names, is among the most popular NPS
In 2014, think tank the Centre for Social Justice interviewed prisoners and found most of them were using a type of NPS and a Cambridge University report found 20% of prisoners taking Spice were addicted to it.
Seizures of Spice in prison increased from 15 in 2010 to around 737 in 2014, according to the National Offender Management Service.
RAPt, which works out of 26 prisons in the country, called for a dedicated drug recovery wing in every prison. Out of 574 prisoners who, over a 12-month period, completed a RAPt programme to become free from drugs, 223 did so on of these recover wings.
The wings offer "a drug free environment, achieved through a combination of security, testing and incentives alongside intensive programmes that work with prisoners with the aim of stopping drug use completely," RAPt said.
Mike Trace, RAPt's chief executive, said: “Our frontline teams delivering drug treatment in prisons have seen an alarming surge in the use of new psychoactive substances in the last year.
"Staff are reporting distressing levels of violence, both from the effects of these drugs but also the lucrative market exploited by gangs."
He added: “Increased security and testing are important, but to undermine the prison drug market in the long term, every prison should have a drug recovery wing.
"These wings maintain an anti-drug culture and provide intensive rehabilitation treatment to get prisoners free from drugs, and ultimately free from crime.”
RAPt said only 3% of prisoners have access to its full, intensive rehabilitation treatment but said, for every 100 people who under go the treatment, it could save £6.3million in crime reductions.
The Department of Health is evaluating the results of a pilot of drug recovery wings in a total of 11 prisons, which is due to be completed in April, 2016.
In response to the RAPt's revelations on legal high use, a Prison Service spokeswoman told The Huffington Post UK: "We take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison.
"There are already a range of robust measures in place across the prison estate, not only to detect drugs but also to support offenders with substance misuse issues.
"We have also introduced tough new laws meaning those who smuggle packages over prison walls, including new psychoactive substances, face up to two years in prison."