Prisons could be handed new powers to test for psychoactive substances not currently prohibited by law – but one prisons expert has said the move was “based on a complete misunderstanding of reality”.
Prisoners can now only be tested for substances that are registered under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – meaning many modern manufactured psychoactive drugs go unchecked.
Tory MP Bim Afolami told ministers in the Commons that the “cancer of drugs” like Spice needed to be “exorcised” from the system.
The Hitchin and Harpenden MP, proposing his Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill, said: “In order to add a newly formed manufactured psychoactive drug to a list of prohibited drugs the Government needs to manually add each and every psychoactive drug to that list.
“This can be very cumbersome, very time consuming and relatively easy for drug manufacturers and the chemical experts to get around the law and they do this by producing slightly different versions of such a psychoactive drug.”
Mr Afolami urged the Government to support his Bill, via a 10-minute rule motion, telling ministers it would “untie their hands” in the fight on drugs within prisons.
He added: “This Bill is very straightforward and very simple, it allows a generalised definition of psychoactive drugs, one provided by the Psychoactive Substance Act 2016.
“It allows it to be added to the statute book which will allow Her Majesty’s Prison Service to test prisoners for any and all psychoactive substances going forward, now and in the future.”
The Bill was listed for a second reading on July 6 but is unlikely to become law in its current form without Government support or sufficient parliamentary time.
But Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:
“I applaud their willingness to keep going back to this issue, it is vital they do as NPS drugs are a toxic chemical combination that have already claimed around 100 lives in our prisons – and have been responsible for tens of thousands of incidents of violence and self harm too.
“But widening the legal goalposts in this way, is not the solution and it is based on a complete misunderstanding of reality.
“The fact is that prisons can and do already test for NPS.
“Prisons now have around 300 drug dogs trained to sniff out NPS, and HMPPS have had powers to test prisoners for NPS since September 2016.
“Figures drawn from the HMPPS Incident Reporting System suggest there were just over 4000 incidents where psychoactive substances were found in prisons between August 2016 and July 2017 in England and Wales.
“Latest details of how many positive NPS tests there have been is due in July 2018, when HMPPS publishes its next Digest on the matter.”