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Class A Drug Testing on Arrest to be extended across Essex

Almost three-quarters of a million pounds from the Home Office Police Innovation Fund has been secured to extend a Drug Testing On Arrest pilot programme run in Chelmsford across all of Essex, including the unitary areas of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock.

Nick Alston, Police & Crime Commissioner for Essex, said:  “It has long been known that Class A drug users often commit a significant proportion of acquisitive crime – such as burglaries, shoplifting and robbery.  The Drug Testing On Arrest programme aims to identify whether a person who’s been arrested and taken to a police custody suite on suspicion of certain offences is a Class A drug user, and if so facilitate their access to treatment.   The evidence shows that successful treatment for drug misuse will significantly reduce re-offending, and keep our communities safer.  I’m delighted that we’ve received Home Office Police Innovation funding of £718,000 to expand this project over the next two years.  The programme will also be subject to a major academic evaluation by the University of Essex School of Health and Human Sciences, ensuring that its effectiveness is subjected to a full analysis.”

The original project was conducted in the Chelmsford area.  During 2013-14, with £16,000 of Police and Crime Commissioner funding, plus money from the Essex Drug and Alcohol Action Team and Safer Essex, the Westminster Drug Project ran a pilot programme in police custody suites to test arrested suspects for the use of Class A drugs. A positive test for a banned substance triggered early intervention with drug users to address their use of illegal substances and any links to criminal behaviour.

The Chelmsford Drug Testing On Arrest pilot has so far referred 53 individuals for treatment, and 37 have successfully engaged with the programme. 

Essex County Councillor Ann Naylor, cabinet member with responsibility for Public Health, said: “This funding is great news and enables us to develop a comprehensive pilot which we believe will result in safer communities. The aim of the Drug Testing On Arrest programme is to reduce reoffending by ensuring that adult offenders affected by drug misuse are offered and receive the appropriate support and interventions that benefit them, such as drug recovery and behavioural change programmes.  They can also receive support from mental and general healthcare professionals where appropriate.”   

According to National Treatment Agency research, a heroin or crack cocaine user costs society an average of £26,074 per year.  Home Office research has found that the overall volume of offending of over 7,700 individuals nationally was 26% lower following identification through a positive drug test in police custody.  Around half of the individuals who tested positive for Class A drug use showed a significant decline in offending of almost 80% in the following six months. All this research supports the view that securing treatment at the earliest opportunity reduces offending significantly.

The proposal to expand the scheme was jointly agreed by Essex Police, Essex County Council, the Southend-on-Sea Borough and Thurrock Councils, and the Police and Crime Commissioner. 

Derek Benson, Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police, said: “I would echo the comments of the PCC in welcoming the decision to fund this initiative across Essex, Southend and Thurrock. Testing such as this offers Essex Police another valuable tool alongside education and enforcement in tackling drug misuse”.

Glyn Halksworth, Strategy Manager for the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council Drug and Alcohol Commissioning Team, said: “This is excellent news for Southend and fully supports our continued work with Essex Police to ensure offenders who misuse drugs get the right support to help them stop the cycle of drugs and crime which they may be trapped in. This scheme will help us identify offenders more effectively and ensure the right type of help gets to the right people at the right time.”

Jim Nicolson, Community Protection Manager for Thurrock Council, said: “This is a very welcome development which will enable us to engage more easily with those individuals whose offending is linked to their drug using at as early a stage as possible. This will help prevent further offending thereby reducing crime, reducing re-offending and making communities safer in Thurrock and across the whole of Essex.”

The Home Office Police Innovation fund has provided a total of £718,000 to help expand the project across Essex during 2014-15 and 2015-16.  Using the National Treatment Agency figure that a heroin or crack cocaine user costs society on average £26,074 per year, the Drug Testing On Arrest project will be cost neutral with regard to the Innovation Fund grant when 29 people successfully receive treatment and no longer offend.  The aim and aspiration is that over the life of the project – for financial years 2014-15 and 2015-16 – across the eight police custody suites in Essex, an extra 400 people per year will be referred for treatment. 

Trained staff in each custody suite will drug test every individual who is arrested for a Trigger Offence (as described in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act) or under Inspector’s Authority (as also described in PACE), where there are reasonable grounds.  Trigger Offences are shown or tend to be drug related such as acquisitive crime and identified drug offences.  This means that not every person arrested will be drug tested, and the reasonable grounds have to be approved by an Essex Police Inspector at the time of detention in the custody suite.  A programme of training will ensure that there are sufficient numbers of police personnel trained and available to perform testing in each custody suite. The method used will be an oral fluid test, more commonly known as a saliva swab. 

 Details of the Trigger Offences can be seen on page 21 here.

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PFCC for Essex, Kelvedon Park, London Road, Rivenhall, Witham, Essex, CM8 3HB
01245 291600

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