spice homeless
Man seen suffering the 'catatonic' effects of the psychoactive drug Spice

The Government has set up a new online system to help emergency services understand the best ways to deal with people suffering from the side effects of new psychoactive substances.

The system, Report Illicit Drug Reaction (RIDR), is being piloted by Public Health England (PHE) as reports suggest so-called "legal highs" such as Spice are being widely used by young people and vulnerable adults including homeless and prisoners despite being banned in 2015.

While services are dealing with the rise in popularity of these drugs, PHE said the harm is "often poorly understood" in frontline healthcare services and there is "little guidance" for those who use them.

The Report Illicit Drug Reaction site will be available to all health staff who work in services such as A&E, sexual health clinics, mental health services, prison health services, drug treatment services and GP surgeries.

Using an online portal, users will be able to inform others on the best way to treat these new psychoactive drug users, identity symptoms and improve patient safety.

The portal arrives following a report detailing how Spice is giving the homeless of the UK "zombie-like" symptoms.

Julie Boyle, a support worker at Manchester-based homeless charity Lifeshare, told The Times: "It's harder to come off Spice than it is to come off heroin.

"It makes vulnerable people more vulnerable. This thing at the moment that's freezing people like statues... It's a new strain that's been around for about 10 days, it makes them in a catatonic state."

One in 40 (2.5%) young adults aged 16 to 24 tried a new psychoactive substance last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

legal highs
So-called 'legal highs' were banned by the Government in 2015 Getty

Rosanna O'Connor, director of Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco at PHE, said: "The contents of new psychoactive substances frequently change and their effects can be dangerous and unpredictable. These substances can cause serious problems to both mental and physical health.

"[The] ban has helped reduce their easy availability, but we are still seeing the most vulnerable groups, particularly, the homeless, prisoners and some young people, suffering the greatest harm from these substances.

"The new RIDR system will help health staff better deal with the emerging challenges we are seeing. We want to encourage all frontline staff in settings such as A&E, sexual health clinics, prisons, drug and mental health services, to use the system, which over time will greatly increase our knowledge of these new substances and ultimately improve patient care."

Dr Sarah Elise Finlay, emergency medicine consultant, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: "The information and advice provided by this new system will ultimately ease some of the burden and stress of managing those tricky overdose and poisoning cases in the early hours over the weekend in emergency settings.

"Emergency services are facing significant pressure, which is why we've made the RIDR system as easy as possible for health staff. It's great to know that, in future, help will be at hand for health staff dealing with the harms of these often unknown new drugs."