BBC, Friday, 14 December 2007
The Army is dismissing the equivalent of almost a battalion of soldiers every year for taking drugs, a report says.
The Royal United Services Institute said the number of positive tests for illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin rose from 517 in 2003 to 769 last year.
Positive tests for cocaine use rose four-fold during the same period. A dishonourable discharge is likely after a positive test for illegal drug use.
The MoD said drug abuse was less common among forces personnel than civilians.
Unannounced compulsory drug testing (CDT) is carried out across the Royal Navy, Army and RAF.
In the Army, which tests 85% of its personnel yearly, positive tests rose from 1.4 per 1,000 in 2003 to 4.0 in the first half of 2006 and 5.7 per 1,000 from January to June 2007.
Professor Sheila Bird, a senior scientist with the Medical Research Council writing for the RUSI Journal, said the government had refused to say whether it had change testing practices since 2003 "on the grounds of cost".
More sensitive tests and more testing after weekends and home leave would "go a long way" to accounting for the rise in positive tests for cocaine, she said.
However, if there had been no changes, she said the cocaine results could signal "a genuine change in soldiers' drug use during a period coincident with major operations".
It could also indicate that cocaine use was actually two to three times higher because there was a high chance infrequent use was going undetected, Professor Bird said.
This was because infrequent use could occur on weekends - but testing may not specifically carried out on Mondays.
Professor Bird analysed answers to Parliamentary questions to find out about army drug testing.
She said that in 2003 cannabis accounted for 50% of all CDT positive tests and cocaine 22%, but by 2006 the figures were 30% for cannabis and 50% for cocaine.
The switch could be the result of soldiers deliberately moving away from cannabis to "minimise their chance of testing positive" - traces of cannabis remain in the urine for two to three weeks, while cocaine remains for two or three days after use.
RUSI defence management analyst Christianne Tipping said the Ministry of Defence's drugs policy needed to re-examined, especially "at a time when recruitment and retention are problematic".
"CDT exists to deter rather than to try to catch every single person who might engage in occasional drug use. It also helps to maintain operational effectiveness and reduce possible security risks, such as blackmail.
"However, there could be a need to look at a more pragmatic management strategy so that recruitment difficulties in certain trades are not compounded by high discharge rates resulting from drug offences."
But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Drug misuse is incompatible with service life and is not tolerated.
"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."
The RUSI report comes a month after 17 soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were discharged after testing positive for drugs.