Call for drugs tests for everyone arrested

EVERYONE who is arrested should be tested for drugs so the nation can tackle the problem of addiction, it was claimed last night.

Neil McKeganey, who leads the Centre for Drug Misuse at Glasgow University, is lobbying police forces and the Government to resume such tests, which are standard practice in the United States.

McKeganey and colleagues last carried out the work nearly a decade ago, revealing that 70% of people who are detained by the police have drugs in their system.

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Now he wants to see regular updates on the work, which he believes gives the best possible picture of what kind of drugs are being taken, not just by criminals but by society as a whole. McKeganey and his team tested and interviewed more than 400 people for their report in 2000.

Those arrested, he said, willingly undertook the tests and answered questions about their drug habits because they knew the researchers were academics, rather than working for the police.

He said: "We learnt a great deal about the prevalence of certain drugs and would really like to see this work done again. This is one of the best ways of finding out what kind of drugs people are taking in the wider population. It has been done in America for 15 years and is done in England too."

Some police officers are also eager for clues from the kind of research McKeganey has in mind. They have become increasingly concerned about the number of people found to be mixing cocaine with alcohol, making them extremely difficult to deal with.

Only 3% of arrested people who took part in the last round of checks tested positive for cocaine. The figures were 52% for cannabis; 33% for benzodiazepines; 31% for opiates; and 12% for methadone, the heroin substitute.

The Scottish Government said it had no immediate plans to resume the tests. A spokesman, however, said: "We are currently engaged in a major review of research in the drugs area.

That will help inform decisions about the commissioning of future research work."