Drug-testing scheme to cut crime is labelled a failure

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The Independent Online

A Government scheme to tackle property crime by forcing arrested heroin and cocaine addicts to submit to regular drug tests has been denounced as a failure.

A Government scheme to tackle property crime by forcing arrested heroin and cocaine addicts to submit to regular drug tests has been denounced as a failure.

Independent analysis of the scheme, commissioned by the Home Office, found that more than half the addicts breached their court orders and continued using the drugs.

Narcotics experts said yesterday that the findings showed the Drug Abstinence Orders programme was not working and questioned the wisdom of ministers in extending the scheme across the country earlier this month.

Roger Howard, the chief executive of DrugScope, said the programme was doomed to failure because it offered hardened drug users no treatment for their habits. "With almost three in five offenders breaching probation abstinence orders, the Government must rethink how these orders are rolled out," he said.

Under the scheme, which began last year, people arrested for robbery or theft or class A drug offences can be tested for drugs at police stations.

The evaluation report, by an independent research consultancy, said that by the end of February 1,835 arrested people had been tested in three pilot areas. In Hackney, 63 per cent of those tested showed positive for heroin and cocaine, with 58 per cent testing positive in Nottingham and 47 per cent in Stafford and Cannock.

Only 106 of these had since moved on to probation-run abstinence schemes, which require them to stop taking drugs or face being sent back to court.

The evaluation study found that 61 of the 106 people placed on Drug Abstinence Orders or Drug Abstinence Requirements had shown positive for drugs on three consecutive or two non-consecutive tests over a six-week period. "Breach rates were very high at Nottingham, which is the site where the new orders have been implemented most extensively," the report said.

The authors said criminal justice professionals were concerned that drug users were not being given enough help to kick their addictions. "Probation and magistrates perceive that current breach provisions are potentially demotivating and an ineffective and inappropriate use of resources."

The findings follow a report earlier this week by the House of Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee that called for Drug Abstinence Orders to be amended so that they required access to treatment.