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Priti Patel confirmed the £15million expansion of drug testing over the next four years during her Conservative Party conference speech in Manchester on Tuesday – warning there would be the “harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences” for those “unwilling to address their drug misuse”.
The policy will focus on arrests for crimes including narcotics offences, fraud and theft while five pilots will give police extra powers to test suspects arrested for crimes beyond the usual so-called “trigger” offences of shoplifting, burglary and robbery.
Ms Patel said: “Those who test positive as confirmed drug users will be supported to tackle their drug abuse and regain their independence.
For those unwilling to address their drug misuse, there will be the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences
Priti Patel, Home Secretary
“But for those unwilling to address their drug misuse, there will be the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences.”
According to further details released by the Tories, officers will test suspects in custody for the presence of heroin or cocaine.
A total of £375,000 will be offered to police forces immediately to expand their use of drug testing on arrest. The Government will offer £5,000 to all 43 forces in England and Wales to invest in extra testing equipment and training for police officers and staff this year.
And in addition to this, five forces: City of London, South Yorkshire, West Midlands, Hertfordshire and Gwent – will receive an additional £32,000 boost this year to increase testing for a wider range of offences, which could include domestic abuse and public order offences.
Those who test positive for opiates or cocaine will be referred for treatment or measures like drug awareness courses to try to “tackle the problem at its root and reduce the prevalence of drug misuse across society”, the party said.
Those who refuse will face prosecution with a maximum penalty of up to three months in jail and/or a £2,500 fine, according to the Home Office.
Drugs charity Release described the announcement as “the Emperor’s new clothes” and suggested it was simply revisiting past ideas, adding: “The evidence – including the Home Office’s own research – finds that the efficacy of these measures is weak, and therefore this is just throwing more money at a failed drug policy”.
But Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), told the PA news agency: “I do think it’s a good idea, I haven’t seen the detail enough yet to understand exactly how it would work in practice but there is no doubt there is a correlation between drug use and drug addiction and crime, and that has an impact on victims, it has an impact on police demand. We need to see the detail and understand, you know what demand that may place on the service but breaking that link between drug use, drug addiction and crime seems to me to be a sensible thing to do.”
Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin, who leads the NPCC’s work on drugs, said: “Improving testing capacity and the training offered to officers will enable police to identify those who are at highest risk from drug misuse, and direct them towards appropriate support and treatment for their misuse.
“Forces will be focusing on those causing the most harm to themselves and others, however policing alone is not the answer to drug addiction. That is why widening drug testing in this way will further involve the health, social care and education sector in the societal response to drug misuse.”