Scotland’s jails are in the grip of a new drugs crisis with the number of prisoners needing medical attention rising five fold in the last three years.
More than 1,600 prisoners needed medical attention after using psychoactive substances – formerly known as legal highs – last year.
And the number of cases continues to increase – with 1,100 prisoners affected already this year.
Banning smoking in prisons has caused the problem to escalate, warders say, with inmates now using government-issued e-cigarette devices to inhale the drugs.
Officers have passed out because of the fumes in cells where the drugs have been smoked.
One senior officer said: “These highs are being used by most long-term prisoners, and they now massively outnumber those taking heroin or other mainstream drugs.
“The situation has escalated out of control because it is virtually impossible to test what these prisoners have taken.”
The drugs can be smuggled into jails on letters or children’s drawings which have been soaked in the chemicals. Prisoners only need tiny scraps of paper to get high.
Prison officers say the situation across the country’s jails is already out of control.
One said: “We seen prisoners foaming at the mouth and rampaging around with their eyes bulging out of their heads.
“Others look as if they are zombies.
“They exhibit super-human strength and are just completely out of control – it’s like walking into a zombie apocalypse.
“They don’t feel pain. We’ve seen then inflicting terrible injuries on themselves and others.” The Sunday Post revealed last year that specially trained sniffer dogs were being used to try and curb the spread of “zombie drugs” like the substance known as spice. At least one prisoner has already died after using an illegal substance, and then setting himself on fire.
And a nurse has been knocked out after inhaling the unknown chemicals while trying to treat a prisoner. MSP Neil Findlay is calling for a government inquiry into the risks new psychoactive substances are having inside jails.
He said: “I’ve been contacted by prison officers from across Scotland who all have the same concerns and experiences dealing with prisoners under the influence of psychoactive substances, and it’s clear from the figures I have obtained this is becoming a major issue in our overcrowded jails. The Scottish Prison Service appear to be unable to react quickly to the situation, and this is putting the health and safety of officers at risk.”
A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said they are “concerned” about the effects of the psychoactive chemicals on both staff and prisoners.
He said: “People who are habitual cannabis or heroin users know what they are taking. But when anyone takes this stuff, they have no idea what they are taking or how their body will react.
“People can go from being placid to Tasmanian Devil to dead in less than half an hour. That is what is most frightening about these substances.
“They are cheap to manufacture, and there are many ways for them to get inside prisons. We have been using sniffer dogs, electronic detection equipment and have been working very hard with our intelligence network to target those who traffic this stuff.
“It’s concerning, for prisoners and their long-term health, and for our officers who are having contact with them, because these chemicals can lead to outbursts of extreme violence.”
Guard: This stuff is rife in every prison, it’s frightening
Officers say the drugs often leave prisoners looking as if they are dead.
One said: “I went to check on a prisoner recently because he looked as if he had actually died in his cell, only to collapse myself when I inhaled whatever it was he had been vaping.
“It’s not the first time this has happened to me – or to other officers.
“Lots of us have suffered after effects, pounding headaches, major spikes in high blood pressure and depression from the comedown from involuntarily inhaling these substances.”
Almost 90 prison officers needed medical attention last year. But the Scottish Prison Service has admitted they do not keep records to show how many officers have ended up hospitalised.
A prison officer at one of Scotland’s most notorious jails said: “This stuff is rife everywhere, at Edinburgh, Grampian, Lowmoss, Shotts and Perth.
“I’ve passed out several times after going into various cells.
“Because nobody knows what’s in these chemicals, it’s frightening.
“Some of us have joked that we should be given breathing apparatus.
“But that’s no laughing matter.”