Police to be tested for use of drugs

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POLICE OFFICERS are to undergo compulsory drug testing to try to reduce the chronic levels of sickness in the ranks.

Controversially, the drug screening is designed not to expose officers for dismissal. Even the use of Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine will be dealt with in a "supportive, not punitive" manner. The aim is to help officers come forward for counselling and rehabilitation.

Forces are to introduce the testing as part of a radical health programme aimed at cutting the numbers of retirements on medical grounds. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has said the "ridiculous" problem is costing up to pounds 250m a year and has threatened forces with budget restrictions unless they reduce the burden.

The drug testing forms part of the Drugs and the Workplace project, which is backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, representing all forces in England and Wales.

The programme will be pioneered next month by Merseyside Police, which will start compulsory drug testing of new recruits. It will then be extended to officers working in sensitive positions, such as those in armed response vehicles or underwater units.

Testing will be widened to all officers seeking promotion and finally a random compulsory screening programme will be introduced for all staff. In its new alcohol and drug misuse policy, the force advises: "If you have a drink or drug problem the force will help you to overcome it."

News of the testing comes as the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence revealed today that drink and drug misuse is costing employers an estimated pounds 3bn a year.

Merseyside ills, page 8