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Stress of combat blamed for rising cocaine use in army

James Sturcke
Friday December 14, 2007
Guardian Unlimited


There are three times more soldiers testing positive for cocaine than ecstasy.
The army today admitted that cocaine was becoming the "drug of choice" for British service personnel.
Colonel John Donnelly, who has responsibility for army discipline, said a significant increase in drug taking by soldiers could be linked to stress induced by the demands of combat operations.

His comments followed the publication of a report which found that about 800 soldiers - the equivalent to a battalion - were testing positive for drugs each year.

"Cocaine is more available and, certainly for our soldiers, it is becoming increasingly the drug of choice," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Asked whether there were links between the current combat deployments and drug use, he said: "The effects on the mind following demanding operations are well known. They manifest themselves in a number of areas and drugs maybe one of them."

Donnelly denied the army was complacent on drug use, saying that 99% of soldiers "got the message" about its no-tolerance approach. He said the number of positive results had increased partly because of improvements to the army's drug testing regime, which targeted single soldiers aged under 25.

About 90% of soldiers who test positive for drugs receive a dishonourable discharge.

The report's author, Professor Sheila Bird, a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council, said the most striking aspect of the findings was the number of soldiers testing positive for cocaine, which has increased fourfold since 2003.

Research into compulsory drugs testing of UK service personnel found a rise in positive tests for illegal substances in the army from 517 individual cases in 2003 to 795 in 2005, before falling to 769 in 2006.

The positive rate for cocaine increased from 1.4 per 1,000 people in 2003 to 5.7 per 1,000 in early 2007. Writing in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Bird said this was possibly just the "tip of the iceberg".

There are three times more soldiers testing positive for cocaine than ecstasy, she added; in the general population, the numbers taking cocaine are roughly equal to those using ecstasy.

In 2003, cannabis accounted for half of all positive drugs tests, with cocaine accounting for 22%. But by 2006, about 50% of all positive tests registered cocaine use, with cannabis found in about 30%, the research revealed.

Bird suggested soldiers' drug use may have shifted away from cannabis partly to minimise their chance of testing positive. Traces of cocaine disappear from urine quicker than cannabis.

Despite the increase, the research appears to show that cocaine use in the army is below the national average. Equivalent British crime survey figures from 6,000 respondents aged between 16 and 24 found 28 people in 1,000 used cocaine in 2003/04, and 32 per 1,000 in 2006/07.

The Ministry of Defence recently revealed that 17 soldiers from the 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) tested positive for drugs after a rest and relaxation period in Cancún, Mexico, following an exercise in Belize.

"Drug misuse is not widespread in the armed forces. Drug misuse is incompatible with service life and is not tolerated," the MoD said.

"Positive rates in the army over the past four years average around 0.77%, compared with over 7% in civilian workplace drug testing programmes in the UK. These statistics demonstrate that drug misuse is significantly less prevalent among service personnel than in corresponding civilian demographic groups."


Phototgraph: Strathclyde Police/PA Wire


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Added: Dec-14-2007 
By: allyssa
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Tags: Iraq, Afghanistan, military, cocaine, drug abuse
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