Thursday, August 02, 2007

Drug testing company welcomes expansion of drug testing - shock

In an altogether unsurprising development the drug testing company Cozart, that produces the saliva drug testing equipment and kits used in the Home Office's flagship Drug Intervention Programme (DIP) , has welcomed the Government's drug strategy consultation, with a particular emphasis on the drug testing bit.

In a press release issued today Cozart claim that:

"Testing technology helps reduce drug-related crime by 20 percent"

"With the help of innovative drug testing technology from Cozart, the Home Office's national Drug Interventions Programme (DIP) is already enjoying unprecedented success."

"Police across Nottingham, West Midlands , Greater Manchester and South & West Yorkshire have adopted the technology across their entire forces. While drugs-related crime has fallen by up to a fifth in these areas since the introduction of the DIP, recent statistics from the latest British Crime Survey show an overall 10 percent rise in police-recorded drug offences nationwide."

Cozart rapiscan - detects 'drugs of abuse' (but only illegal ones) in spit
This is all very confusing. According to the British Crime Survey (which for all its faults is the best we have) there has indeed been a drop in property crime since the DIP were introduced.

However it needs to be pointed out that:

1. 'drug related crime' is not a recorded statistic.

There are crimes like possession and supply that are recorded, and there are crimes like shoplifting, robbery and burglary, many of which are committed to raise money to feed an illegal drug habit. However the the proportion of the latter that are 'drug related' is pure guess work and inference based on some drug testing on arrest studies. The methodology is riddled with holes and it's all very unreliable data to start with. We do not have a measure of drug related crime, and specifically do not have year on year data to make comparisons or show trends. In the unlikely event that you don't believe me, here are a few recent Parliamentary questions and ministerial answers:

Mr. Jeremy Browne : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many incidents of robbery reported to the police in 2006 were classified as drug-related crime. [PQ No. 117790]

Mr. Coaker : Data on offences of robbery recorded by the police are available from the recorded crime statistics. However, it is not possible to determine those that are drug-related as no information is collected on the circumstances surrounding the offences.


David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the average annual illegal income of arrested (a) heroin and (b) crack users. [PQ No. 47717]

Mr. Charles Clarke: We do not have the information requested.


Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment his Department has made of the proportion of crime undertaken as a direct consequence of drug addiction; and if he will make a statement. [16701]

Paul Goggins: Crime statistics used for monitoring overall crime trends, such as recorded crime and the British Crime Survey, do not contain information about the drug habits of individual offenders or their motivation for offending. It is therefore not possible to provide firm estimates of the total amount of crime undertaken as a direct consequence of addiction.

2. Even if we did have a measure of 'drug related crime' there would be no way of relating the recent crime fall to DIPs

This link has been made again and again by the Home Office, on its website, in promotional literature and in almost every pronouncement made by drugs minister Vernon Coaker - all part of the increasingly desperate attempt to dress up the shocking failure of the 10 year strategy as success (discussed at length elswhere in the blog, here for example). Yet the obvious implication of the statement, that DIPs are responsible for the drop in crime is entirely un-evidenced. DIPs have been implemented in different ways, with different resources, in different areas. Can a statistically significant link be demonstrated between the degree of DIP roll out in a given area and the extent of the fall in crime? I don't know, and nor does the Home Office because that work has not been done. What about using areas that didn't have DIPs at all as a control to test the assertion? After all, if we are going to throw stats around, shouldn't we at least attempt to adhere to basic scientific good practice? But again, the work simply hasn't been done, or if it has, it has produced politically unpalatable conclusions and has been suppressed.

It is likely that DIPs have had some effect on crime levels, but at present this is entirely unquantified and could account for anywhere between 'none' and 'all' of the 20% fall. Yet in the absence of any actual research to back up or refute the Home Office's claim they continue to very publicly (and I would suggest shamelessly) take credit for the crime fall, without having the faintest idea if it is deserved or not.

An alternative theory is that due to the spectacular failure of the billions squandered on Government attempts to stifle the availability of heroin and cocaine -which are now more available and much cheaper, around 20% cheaper, than they were in 2003 - dependent users have to steal less. About 20% less. So maybe, in fact, the 20% crime fall is due to the failure of the Government's supply interventions and not the success of DIPs. This seems like a plausible theory to me, but unlike the Home Office, I hold my hands up and say that it is just a theory and I don't have any evidence to back it up. I also don't have an army of civil servants and researchers at my disposal who could easily gather that evidence.

Meanwhile the drug testing companies who are, I believe the technical term is 'absolutely minting it', from the DIP roll out are more than happy to parrot Home Office propaganda and welcome the consultation, safe in the knowledge that the next strategy has already been largely determined and will most certainly involve lots and lots of drug testing. Calls for less testing will be ignored and evidence of its effectiveness will be found, whether it exists or not.


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