The big Killer in Iraq – drugs

Army losing more through drugs than war

Article from: Agence France-Presse

From correspondents in London

December 14, 2007 12:19pm

THE British army is losing the equivalent of nearly a battalion to illegal drug use every year, research shows.

Research from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defence think tank, showed the losses were greater than the total number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from Britain‘s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An article in RUSI’s journal showed an increase in positive test results for illegal substances, through the defence ministry’s compulsory testing (CDT) program, from 517 cases in 2003 to 769 last year – almost a battalion’s worth.

The research provides more bad news for the British armed forces, after the current head of the army, Sir Richard Dannatt, warned of morale problems and serious overstretch among troops in a high-level report, according to excerpts published by a newspaper last month.

Researchers were also alarmed by a four-fold increase in the rate of soldiers testing positive for cocaine use. Positive rates of cocaine abuse rose from 1.4 per 1000 in 2003 to 5.7 in the first semester of 2007.

Author Professor Sheila Bird, a senior scientist with the Medical Research Council, warned the increase could be the tip of the iceberg.

The researchers noted, however, that changes in the practices of the CDT program could have influenced the results, and said that the Government had refused, on cost grounds, to release key data on this subject.

A defence ministry spokesman told AFP that about 90 per cent of armed services personnel who tested positive for illegal substances were dishonourably discharged, while the remaining 10 per cent were usually from junior ranks.

“We’re confident that our drug policy, it works, and if you crack down on it hard, then the message gets out to other members of the forces that drugs won’t be tolerated,” said the spokesman, on condition of anonymity.

He also dismissed any suggestion that increases in the total number of positive cases from 2003 to last year were linked to British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a separate article in the same edition of the journal, RUSI analyst Christianne Tipping said that while the ministry’s tough drugs strategy had served it well in the past, the time may have come to review it.

“The recent increase in positive test results, the more stressful nature of today’s military operations, the manning shortfalls, the possibility of future retention problems and the difficulty of recruiting to certain trades are good reasons for re-examining the present policy,” she wrote.


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