Dear Ian Oliver

The Chief Constable of Grampian suggests employers might use random drug sampling. Is this not extracting the urine from our tattered civil rights?
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The Independent Online
Apparently, you believe it would be a good idea to conduct random drugs tests on your officers. Maybe so. If I lived in the Grampian area, you can bet I'd spend a lot of my time in the Highlands, too. But you also ventured that other employers should consider testing employees, "especially in areas where safety is a concern". Of course, you stressed that there should be no witch-hunts, and that anyone found to have taken drugs should receive advice and counselling rather than be sacked.

That's a wise precaution, particularly when you consider the likelihood of inconclusive results, and the difficulty in many cases of pinpointing the substance allegedly being abused. Look at the recent troubles in the world of athletics, where a number of athletes have challenged (and in some cases overturned) results of tests far more rigorous and precise than anything Marks & Spencer is likely to devise.

And what about the officer/bus driver/lifeguard who tests positive for ephedrine or phenylpropanolamine, two stimulants found in many over-the- counter cold remedies? Do you suspend him until you are sure he's not a speed freak, or take his word he's got a heavy cold? Proprietary brand medicines can contain anything from hallucinogenic substances to opiates, so what do you do if these start showing up?

Drug testing is not an effective way of rooting out the untrustworthy and unreliable, as we can see from California, where it is commonplace. Any Californian who takes drugs (I understand there are a few) and is subject to random testing simply purchases one of the many cleansing agents on the market, such as Detoxify or Fast Flush. Introduce testing here and you'll have to outlaw these products pronto, or the whole thing will degenerate into a fiasco.

Talking of which, does the phrase "thin end of the wedge" ring bells for you? If you're so hot on educating the public to the dangers of drugs, as you say you are, why are you so keen to ensure we don't try them? Let's get serious here - drug testing has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with pulling away another strand of our already-tattered civil liberties.

As an officer of the law, your job is to prevent crime. But when it comes to forming social policy, perhaps you're a little out of your depth. What you are advocating is nothing less than a flagrant abuse of human rights. Where do you get the moral authority to examine my urine, blood or hair for traces of psycho-active substances, or anything else for that matter?

Anyway, never mind bus drivers and policemen; if we're going to test for drugs, let's start in the House of Commons. You can have my warm sample provided our elected representatives piss into the bottle first.

Would our parliamentarians' results come back 100 per cent clean? I doubt it. Still, I wouldn't want to deprive them of their illicit delights, even though when it comes to "areas where safety is of concern", I'd put upholding democracy quite high on my list.

Yours hallucinogenically,

ALIX SHARKEY

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