A newly-issued report highlights the scale of the drug-related dismissals that take place within the British Army each year. According to the Royal United Services Institute, 769 positive tests for drugs including heroin and ecstasy were recorded in 2006 - over 250 more than had taken place in 2003. Over the same three-year period, the number of tests where cocaine played a part increased four-fold.
A common outcome from a positive drug test is dishonourable discharge from the armed forces.
Army, Navy, Air Force all Impose Compulsory Drug Tests
Compulsory Drug Testing (CDT) - imposed without prior warning - takes place within the British Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
In the case of the Army - where 85 per cent of its members are subjected to CDT - 1.4 tests in every 1,000 were positive in 2003. This figure climbed to 4/1000 for the period January-June 2006 and, a year down the line, had risen to 5.7.
Professor Sheila Bird, whose writings appeared in the RUSI Journal, described how the government would not comment on whether, "on the grounds of costs", test methods had been altered over the past four days. If the tests were more sensitive, or if they had been carried out after weekends or breaks from duty, then this would "go a long way" towards validating the increased figures where cocaine was concerned, she added.
However, if the tests took the same format and ran on the same criteria as before, she said, the results for cocaine could indicate "a genuine change in soldiers' drug use during a period coincident with major operations".
Additionally, it could suggest that the use of cocaine was up to three times more than recorded, since there existed a strong chance that sporadic drug taking was not being picked up on in the tests.
According to Prof. Bird, cannabis and cocaine featured in 50 per cent and 22 per cent of positive drug tests in 2003. By last year, these figures had shifted to 30 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. Such an alteration may be due to troops purposefully avoiding cannabis in order to "minimise their chance of testing positive", since cannabis can be traced in urine up to three weeks after being taken. Cocaine, meanwhile, is no longer detectable three days after.
Speaking to the BBC, ex-soldier Major Chris Lincoln Jones said he was aware of drug taking having occurred while he was serving. "A little bit of experimentation goes on, I think, and people fall foul of that", he said.
Another ex-soldier, Major Justin Featherstone, stated that he was not surprised by the findings - highlighting factors including the enormous stress placed on troops by the rigours of operational Army life. However, he added, the Army did not exercise "zero tolerance" all of the time. "Individuals are looked at case by case", he said. "It's not some draconian system."
Another factor that came up was one suggested by Chris Parker - previously a chief of staff.
"Young soldiers if they want to leave the Army have to give a year's notice, and if you take drugs, and you are basically found out by the Army's drug testing programme - which is a regular and random programme that's run - you could be discharged almost immediately," he stated
According to the British Army's head of drug policy, Colonel John Donnelly, the figures needed to be placed contextually. "It's 0.7% of our strength, which compares with over 7% in the civilian workplace", he told the BBC. "Or put that another way, over 99% of our soldiers get the message and are free from drugs. And that's a very positive message to put out for parents and gatekeepers when we are trying to encourage recruits."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence asserted that the misuse of drugs was "incompatible with service life", and that it was "not tolerated."
He continued: "Positive rates in the Army over the past four years average around 0.77%, compared with over 7% in civilian workplace drug testing programmes in the UK. These statistics demonstrate that drug misuse is significantly less prevalent among service personnel than in corresponding civilian demographic groups."
Source - Armed Forces International's Political Correspondent
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