Researchers welcome new support for ‘monkey dust’ users

Researchers at Staffordshire University have welcomed plans to improve support for ‘monkey dust’ users in Stoke-on-Trent

Student Kate White and Dr Jodie Dunnett wearing lab coats and goggles while examining evidence bags of drug samples

Forensic experts at Staffordshire University will analyse ‘monkey dust’ drug samples seized by Staffordshire Police to understand what ingredients are used

It is important that we work collectively to invest in a whole system approach that prioritises prevention of drug use as well as improving treatment and recovery support, alongside action to tackle the supply of drugs. We are pleased to be part of ongoing discussions with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and partners and that our research is being used to inform these decisions.

Fiona McCormack, Centre for Health and Development

As part of the new National Drug Strategy, ‘From harm to hope’, Stoke-on-Trent City Council received additional grant funding of just over five million pounds from April 2022 to March 2024, to improve drug and alcohol treatment.

As part of this, it is bringing together partners from across the city to develop a multiagency approach to tackle drug related harm, with a focus on the synthetic cathinone MDPHP known as ‘monkey dust’.

The City Council commissioned a report to better understand how and why ‘monkey dust’ is used in the city, and the impact on individuals, communities and services. The research was completed by Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health and Development (CHAD), Centre for Crime, Justice and Security, and Expert Citizens Community Interest Company.

Fiona McCormack, CHAD researcher and lead for the project, said: “Our research highlighted that this is a complex topic and that there is a lot we still don't know about the drugs referred to as 'monkey dust'. We found that there are different patterns of use and people reported that the effects can also vary – not everyone who takes it is affected or behaves in the extreme ways portrayed in the media. But there is that stigma, and the ‘monkey dust’ label is being used to exclude people from services and support, including accommodation.

“That 'monkey dust' is a cheap and readily available alternative to other drugs is part of this picture, so too is the lack of support, particularly when someone is in crisis. This can increase the demands on emergency services, which are already stretched. There needs to be an alternative to that, so people can get support and help before issues escalate.”

Monkey dust falls into the broader category of New Psychoactive Substance (NPS) drugs which are all illegal in the UK since 2016. Researchers interviewed people with lived experience of taking ‘monkey dust’, community members and professionals.

Participants described ‘monkey dust’ as having the potential to be ‘mentally addictive’ or ‘an obsession’ with the majority saying that the drug had a detrimental effect on mental health and/or exacerbated mental health experiences.

Interviewees talked about different types of ‘monkey dust’, including different colours and strengths, emphasising that the effects and how long they last for can vary. It was also emphasised that not everyone who takes ‘monkey dust’ reacts or behaves in extreme ways.

The researchers recommend that forensic testing should be a priority to understand what ingredients are used in drugs known as ‘monkey dust’ and their effects. To address this, forensic researchers at Staffordshire University led by Dr Jodie Dunnett will now work with Staffordshire Police to test ‘monkey dust’ drug samples that have been seized.

The report also highlighted a lack of knowledge and fear connected to ‘monkey dust’ with the researchers hearing about incidents and behaviours that were assumed to be related to 'monkey dust', but without any evidence to corroborate it.

Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Action on Poverty, 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 widescale. 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 disadvantage and need help.”

Recommendations from the report, some of which are already being implemented, will inform a multi-agency local action plan currently in development. The learning will also inform further partnership activity and long-term planning for provision of community drug and alcohol services in Stoke-on-Trent.

Councillor Desiree Elliott, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “This is a positive stepping-off point, especially where we are going to advance and focus to improve the life of our people and their communities. We must continue to educate, support and embrace those affected, offering them hope and a path towards recovery.

“As part of our ongoing efforts, this is a massive investment in our communities. We will bring this together in a cohesive way going forward by fostering compassion and providing comprehensive support services to those who need it”.

Fiona added: “It is important that we work collectively to invest in a whole system approach that prioritises prevention of drug use as well as improving treatment and recovery support, alongside action to tackle the supply of drugs. We are pleased to be part of ongoing discussions with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and partners and that our research is being used to inform these decisions.”

Read the Executive Summary of the report on the Centre for Health and Development (CHAD) website.

If you would like help and support with your drug or alcohol use, or would like to talk to about how to help someone you know, please contact Stoke-on-Trent Community Drug & Alcohol Service.

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