The Spice drug problem blighting parts of the UK cannot be allowed to get any worse, a police chief has said, as he warned that the rise of 'zombies' using the substance is putting too much pressure on public services.
Chief Superintendent Wasim Chaudhry also called on the public to stop handing money to homeless people to prevent them from spending it on the former legal-high, which has caused the deaths of hundreds of users.
A synthetic drug often likened to cannabis, Spice is illegal to buy, sell or possess in the UK but it is cheap and readily available from dealers around the country.
It is rolled up in cigarettes and smoked by users and can cause users to become sick, violent and disorientated because it is far stronger than naturally grown alternatives.
The City of Manchester police chief was speaking following a weekend of serious incidents involving the class B drug where officers and NHS staff were assaulted after users became violent and disorientated.
It prompted Nigel Murphy, the city's councillor responsible for crime, to call on the Government to hand over more resources so that police and the heath service can cope with the growing problem.
Mr Chaudhry said officers are doing all they could to tackle the issue but it is "a problem that we cannot afford to get any worse".
He said: "Those who take Spice are often left incapacitated or seriously ill and need the help of our partners in the NHS and ambulance service.
"They can also become aggressive and become a danger to themselves and others. "The truth is, tackling the issues caused by Spice is putting pressure on public services and is taking up a lot of our resources. Particularly in Manchester city centre.
"A multi-agency approach is the only way we can fight this battle."
Speaking to The Telegraph he added that while a shortage of officers is not his main concern, "we can't deny we have a reduced workforce,we've gone from 8,000 to 6,200 officers".
He called for a nationwide public awareness campaign of the dangers the drug poses amid fears that users believe Spice is similar to cannabis, which is far less harmful in most cases.
In reality the drug can be up to 900 times more potent and far more addictive, making it difficult for users to kick the habit once they have started.
One of a number of former so-called legal highs, Spice has become a big problem in cities around the UK where users are often discovered in a catatonic state after taking it.
Some are violently sick and require urgent NHS treatment and there are concerns that because the drug is synthetic, no two batches are the same making it incredibly unpredictable.
Users are as young as 15 and as old as 50, experts in Manchester said, highlighting the need for an awareness campaign in schools to prevent children from experimenting with the drug.
It was banned under the Psychoactive Substances Act last year and reclassified as a class B drug in December, with penalties for supply, possession and production.
But many of the issues associated with the drug are the impact it has on the health of users, which puts strain on the NHS and other services.
The police chief spoke of his fears that dealers in Manchester are cutting the price of the drug so that users become addicted quickly and do whatever it takes to buy more.
He added that passers-by should think before handing over money to homeless people because they could be fuelling a drug habit.
Mr Chaudhry said: "People are giving money to homeless people and they think they're helping them but they are openly telling me they are using that money to purchase drugs.
"These drug dealers are exploiting a vulnerable community and we need to prevent that from happening."
Councillor Nigel Murphy, lead member on crime and community safety in Manchester, added: "Together with the police, we are doing what we we can to combat the dealing and use of this illegal drug.
"This is by no means an issue which only Manchester is experiencing although we recognise it is particularly marked in part of the city centre.
"The government also have a role to play in addressing this problem by ensuring that our police force and other services have adequate resources to deal with it."
Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton said: “Drugs can devastate lives and communities; we will not tolerate them in this country.
"That is why last year we passed the Psychoactive Substances Act to outlaw so-called ‘legal highs’ and introduced even tougher controls for synthetic cannabinoids, such as those found in Spice – people found in possession of it can now be jailed for up to five years.
“We are also tackling the harms caused by illegal drugs. Our Drug Strategy, to be published shortly, will build on the work already undertaken to prevent drug use in our communities and help dependent individuals, including homeless people and those in prisons, to rebuild their lives.”