Pubdate: Fri, 14 Dec 2007
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Terri Judd
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


The Number Of Soldiers Caught Using Cocaine Has Risen Fourfold Since 
The Start Of Operations In Iraq.

At a time when the military is overstretched on two fronts, the 
British Army is discharging almost the equivalent of a battalion a 
year because of illegal drug use, figures published today by the 
Journal of the Royal United Services Institute.

Experts have warned of an increasing level of combat stress among 
troops with many turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with traumatic 
illness. They say personnel are using them to self-medicate and 
escape an uncomfortable reality.

Professor Sheila Bird, a scientist with the Medical Research Council 
writing in the RUSI Journal, said: "Repeated tours in Iraq and 
Afghanistan... may have contributed to the markedly increased positive rates.

"Any recourse to illegal drugs to counter combat stress may also mean 
that, disproportionately often, drug-discharged service personnel 
will have mental health problems that emerge in the short or longer term."

Studies into compulsory drug testing of army personnel revealed that 
there had been a 50 per cent rise in those failing the screening from 
517 cases in 2003 to 769 in 2006. But the trend is most apparent for 
the class-A drug cocaine -- which accounts for the majority of 
positive tests. The rate is up from 1.4 per 1,000 in 2003 to 5.7 per 
1,000 in the first part of 2007. In 2006, cocaine accounted for more 
than half the failed tests (423), ahead of cannabis (221) and ecstasy 
(95). Other drugs taken included amphetamines, tranquillisers and, in 
one case, heroin. Figures up to October indicate that 2007 is 
following the same trend with 618 positive drug tests: 422 for class 
A substances, 20 for class B and 176 for class C.

Only last month the MoD confirmed that 17 soldiers from the 5th 
Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (Argyll and Sutherland 
Highlanders) tested positive for drugs after a rest period in Cancun, Mexico.

The Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former army officer, said the increased 
availability in society and improved testing accounted for some of 
the rise but so did the additional strain placed on soldiers. He 
said: "In the Army of my day operational tours come round say every 
two years, now they are going round every year. Whilst we came back 
with one or two dead and couple of wounded, as we saw from the [2nd 
Battalion, The Mercian Regiment] service the other day, they suffered 
nine dead and 50 wounded. This puts a stress and strain on people. 
They will alleviate that strain through the use of relaxants, whether 
alcohol, abhorrent behaviour or use of drugs. We need to recognise 
that there is tension relief going on and drugs are being used.

While the hardline policy on drugs had served the Army well, the 
study said, problems with recruitment and retention meant the MoD 
needed to be sure that its near-zero tolerance approach was the best 
choice. While most offenders are dishonourably discharged, there is 
some flexibility in "exceptional circumstances" when a first-time 
offender below the rank of corporal is caught using non-class-A drugs.
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