This ex-addict says giving away free food makes Derby's drug problem worse

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

A former Black Mamba addict says Derby's problem with the zombie drug has been made worse by too many people handing out free food at soup kitchens in the city, which is "fuelling the problem".

Simon Maddison said the former legal high destroyed his life.

He believes the way to solve the city's problem is for there to be fewer random free food donations and more funding given to organisations that want to offer long-term solutions.

The 42-year-old, who lives in the city, said the little money addicts have will either be spent on food or drugs.

People in St Peter's Street, Derby, who appear to be under the influence of 'black mamba - a drug that has a 'zombie like' effect on the user

People in St Peter's Street, Derby, who appear to be under the influence of Black Mamba

He said if they are being provided with a meal then their money will instead be spent on the synthetic cannabinoid, which has caused major problems in the city centre for more than a year.

Mr Maddison said: “The rise in the city’s problem has come at the same time as more and more food projects have popped up.

"If addicts don't have to spend the little money they have on food because it's being given away for free, then they'll spend it on drugs.

"It happened to me and I know it's happening with others. The people handing out the food and setting up these pop-up places are good people but it's not helping, it's made it worse.

“These things are enabling their addictions. Food and drugs are their two most important things for addicts, they’ll spend their money on drugs if they’re handed food for free.

A man smoking what may be Black Mamba.

Black Mamba is a synthetic form of cannabis

“It’s not right - if they gave less out then people would have to look harder at the choices they are making.

“It’s easy for a Black Mamba addict to get a free meal every day in Derby. I was guilty of it myself - I used to go to these places and soup kitchens. It encourages a culture of being relied upon. There's many more of them now though."

Mr Maddison said there should be fewer pop-up kitchens and instead people should donate to places like the Padley Centre or the Derby City Mission, which he said offer addicts and the homeless a "long-term" solution to sorting out their lives.

He said a lot of addicts are “playing the system very well”.

He added: “They know the system. Any newcomer on the scene will very quickly be introduced to the best places to go where you can get food easily. It’s a big problem.

Pictured is a suspected Black Mamba user in Derby city centre

Pictured is a suspected Black Mamba user in Derby city centre

“I fully understand people want to help but it’s not the right way at all. There's no regulation, it's just being given out but there's no long-term help or solution. It's my opinion but it's based on my experiences and on what I have seen.

"There are official organisations in Derby which will give access to shelter, access to rehabilitation and support. Not just food. Greater funding for those places will help turn the problem around."

Mr Maddison said he had battled drug addiction for many years but being under the influence of Black Mamba was "the worst thing in the world".

He fell into taking drugs when he was a teenager and was jailed for the cultivating and supplying of cannabis when he was 21. After this he moved to Derby, where as well as taking cannabis, he moved onto amphetamines and Ecstasy.

He started to develop mental health problems from taking the drugs and "gave up on life" for many years.

Mr Maddison said: "My life had fallen apart. I was angry, upset and lost. I'd always taken cannabis but the other drugs just made it worse. I was angry, prone to outbursts and hated my life.

"But Black Mamba made it worse."

Photograph taken by Jonathan Kealey

A man apparently under the influence of Black Mamba in Derby. Photograph taken by Jonathan Kealey

He started to become addicted to the drug around five years ago when it was classed as a "legal high" and was available at shops in the city.

He said: "When Black Mamba became available there was a lot of excitement among addicts because it was something new to try. All my friends were smoking it so I gave it a go.

"It seemed different from cannabis or Ecstasy. Nobody could quite understand how it was legal. I could never get my head around that.

"I'll never forget the feeling I got when I first took it. It felt like I had fallen into a dark hole. It cripples your body but your mind just goes around and round. You're awake but cannot register what is happening. It was horrendous.

"But you quickly become dependent. It's not like anything I've ever taken before. There's something about it which people can't leave alone. You have to have more. It's more addictive than anything."

A suspected drug user at the bus station, just a few yards from the River Gardens

He said he would usually take it at his home but also in public with friends and other addicts.

There were several times when he fell ill and suffered fits through taking it.

Throughout this time he was buying the drug through benefits he was claiming and surviving on the food that was being donated to him.

He is adamant he never begged on the streets.

He added: "I would take it in my flat but also out of sight in public. I'd do it in hidden places, like under the bridge at the River Gardens. It destroyed my life.

"I had a warped sense of life. I stopped functioning properly as a human being.

"I was at absolute rock bottom. In the end I went to prison as a consequence of something I did when I took it."

Packet of Black Mamba

A packet of Black Mamba

In prison, he found religion and God.

Despite being offered Black Mamba in prison, he resisted and instead focused his efforts on improving his life.

He said: "I found God and it gave me a purpose in life. It makes me feel better about myself. I go to churches in Derby and it makes me feel proud and a part of something.

"I was offered Mamba in prison but turned it away. When I came out I started to volunteer and I started to get in a much better place. I have my life back.

"My story is that anything is achievable.

"When you see the people in the city centre on Black Mamba people should stop and think. Please don't be quick to judge. There is a reason they are there like that. I'm not condoning it. But there is a reason and, with help, people can get better.

"The drug has got a grip on our city and our country."

Police have launched major crackdowns on the taking and supplying of the drug. It has been linked to problems in the city centre, including begging and anti-social behaviour.

Hardyal Dhindsa, the county's police and crime commissioner has hosted several summits where organisations and agencies are brought together to try and improve the problem.

He said he wanted to work to bring those closer together. He said: "We do not want to undermine the good will of the people of Derby.

"But we need to pose the question of what is the best way to help. We're looking at a campaign called 'Have a Heart, Give Smart' which will encourage members of the public to give help in the right direction. The people of Derby are very generous and want to help and there are many people wanting to do that. I'm really pleased so many people want to help.

"But we need to try and join that up and work together."

In 2016, the Derby Telegraph reported how police warned that “professional” beggars are fleecing up to £100 a day from the public in Derby - even though they have comfortable homes to go to. Organisations working with the homeless have urged shoppers and workers not to give to beggars, but to make donations direct to them, so genuine homeless people can be helped. This can include donating food, clothing, blankets, and even volunteering.

These are the numbers of some of the charities working with the homeless in Derby.

Milestone House - 01332 642 151; Padley 01332 331 280; Centenary House - 01332 200 005; YMCA - 01332 579 550; No Second Night Out - 0345 111 0000; Derby City Mission - 01332 460 346.

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