Increased Drug Testing in England and Wales to Tackle Root Causes of Cocaine Driven Crime Sees Signs of Progress


Increased Drug Testing in England and Wales to Tackle Root Causes of Cocaine Driven Crime Sees Signs of Progress

Police forces across England and Wales have conducted nearly 100,000 drug tests on suspects believed to be under the influence during their arrest since March 2022. This expansion of drug testing is part of a government initiative to tackle drug-driven crime.

The results are promising. Over half (56%) of suspects arrested for crimes like robbery, burglary, and car theft tested positive for cocaine, opiates, or both. Importantly, over 90% of these positive tests led to an assessment by a drug support worker. Nearly half of those assessed were then referred for treatment, indicating a potential pathway to break the cycle of crime and addiction.

Cocaine Most Prevalent, Expansion Planned

Cocaine was the most commonly detected drug, accounting for 87% of positive tests. Heroin use was less frequent, with 4% testing positive for opiates alone and 31% for both cocaine and opiates.

The government is committed to expanding this program. The Criminal Justice Bill proposes to:

  • Increase the range of testable drugs to include some Class B and C drugs (e.g., cannabis and ketamine).
  • Broaden the scope of “trigger offences” that can lead to a drug test, including violent crimes, football-related offences, and drug driving.

From Inconsistent Use to a National Approach

Prior to 2022, drug testing on arrest lacked consistency. Less than half of police forces reported results, and usage varied significantly. This initiative, with funding allocated to 37 forces in 2023-2024, aims to create a standardized approach.

Chris Philp Minister for Crime and Policing said: 

Our plan to tackle drug driven crime is working. The relationship between drug abuse and criminal behaviour is clear which is why we’ve sought to expand the police use of drug testing on arrest has so far increased every quarter since March 2022. 

Suspects who are caught not only face justice, but are given the chance to turn their lives around by tackling one the root causes of their criminal behaviour and this is why we are pushing through the Criminal Justice Bill to expand these powers.

Drug testing on arrest is just one element of the government’s 10-year Drug Strategy. This broader plan seeks to reduce drug-related crime and harm by investing in a comprehensive approach that tackles both misuse and its consequences.

Roadside Drugs Test (image UK Government)

Government data shows that the gap between harm caused by intoxicated driving is narrowing with some police forces now arresting more drug drivers than drink drivers. 

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