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With Essex Police launching its ‘drugs test upon arrest’ policy across the county, we take a look at the impact such a model is likely to have.  

Following on from a trial at Chelmsford in 2013 that found 25% of those tested had taken Class A drugs, Essex Police are now testing the saliva of all those arrested for cocaine and heroin in a bid to reduce re-offending and cut crime. 

At a launch event to partner organisations, Essex Police made its expectations clear, with Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh hoping for “fewer drug users meaning fewer criminals, and crucially fewer victims” as a result. 

Recognising the importance of substance misuse

We know from the substance misuse professionals that we work with that testing and identifying offenders with drug issues is only part of the solution. This is why the Essex Police model is interesting as it brings together specialist drugs workers and the police to ensure those identified receive the right treatment. 

There’s quite a lot riding on the success of the model too, with the Home Office, Essex Police, several councils, and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioners having collectively set aside £1.3million worth of funding over a two-year period. 

Figures published in the Essex Chronicle for April 2015 reveal that of the 270 drugs tests taken after arrest, 43% tested positive for opiates, and or crack cocaine. 78 (67%) had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting. 

The intention it seems, will be to implement the testing elsewhere, if the outcomes are favourable. To monitor its success the University of Essex School of Health and Human Sciences will be undertaking a full analysis. 

The link between drugs and crime

It’ll be interesting to see what form the analysis will take – after all, there are other factors to consider when it comes to analysing whether drug testing upon arrest has a direct impact on reducing crime. 

The charity DrugScope makes some important observations. It recognises that there is a direct link between drug use and crime, especially theft. But, it also emphasises that most Class A drug users have already established a pattern of criminal activity way before becoming dependent on drugs. 

As we often hear from those working in addiction services, there are a number of social factors to consider too; including family circumstances, employment opportunities, poverty and social exclusion. This is in line with what the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (now part of Public Health England) has found, which frequently mentions the link between problem drug use and crime being complex. Typically, drug misusing offenders first commit crime in their early teens, before they become addicts. The NTA also makes that point that ‘addiction and crime feed on unemployment, homelessness and mental illness.’

So whilst the Essex ‘arrest and test’ model will most certainly help identify many who need help, the real test will be whether or not those offenders go on to address their addictions and stop committing crime to fuel their habit. We look forward to seeing the University of Essex’s report in the months to come. 

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