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U.K. Military Drug Use On The Rise, Royal Navy Expels Some Offenders

Royal Navy Drug Fail

First Posted: 02/13/2012 3:38 pm Updated: 02/13/2012 4:00 pm

Drug use among members of the U.K.'s military is on the rise, according to new data obtained by a number of British newspapers.

According to the Yorkshire Post, nearly 1,500 personnel in all branches of the British armed forces have failed drug tests over the last three years, with the number of cases reported in the Royal Air Force tripling since 2009, according to figures obtained by the Post through the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act.

The figures indicated that the majority of failed compulsory drug tests were recorded in the army, with 1,286 soldiers testing positive for illegal substances between January 2009 and September 2011.

During that same period, the Navy recorded 109 failed tests and the air force recorded 78 cases, 48 of which involved cocaine.

Overall, cocaine accounted for half of all failed drug tests among armed forces personnel and one in three had used cannabis, the Post reported.

Similar data from the Royal United Services Institute show that 769 members of the British armed forces tested positive for heroin, ecstasy and other drugs during 2006 alone, with cocaine showing a four-fold increase in use since 2003.

In response, the British Royal Navy convicted 63 sailors of drug policy violations between October 2007 and July 2011, all but a few of whom were able to keep their jobs, according to the Telegraph.

Sailors tested positive for a range of illegal substances including ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.

And while 63 may not seem like a huge number in a Navy that's some 36,000 members strong, the Daily Mail noted they "could have manned an entire warship with the disgraced crew."

Of course, not all the drug-using sailors were busted aboard the same ship.

Nevertheless, many sailors failed drug tests while serving aboard some of the Royal Navy's most prestigious ships, including the HMS Westminster, a frigate which took part in a naval blockade during the 2011 Libyan Civil War, according to the Daily Mail.

One of the largest busts occurred in 2008 when 18 individuals aboard the HJMS Liverpool tested positive for a class A substance, which was not identified.

According to the Guardian, all 240 of the ship's crew members were subjected to compulsory drug testing after "running ashore" on a break in the port of Santos, Brazil.

Still, military brass have said they're doing everything they can to curb the use of illegal drugs in the armed forces.

"We are not complacent ... our compulsory drug tests will continue to expose those few that let the rest down," a spokesman from the Ministry of Defense told the Telegraph in response to the 2008 incident. "The UK Ministry of Defense conducts Europe's largest compulsory drug testing programme and this has significantly reduced drug misuse among Service personnel."

Ministry of Defense personnel also stress that it's important to put drug convictions in the armed forces in the proper context.

According to BBC News, positive rates hover around 7 percent in civilian workplace drug testing programs. In contrast, positive rates are around 0.4 percent in the Royal Navy and 0.8 percent in the Army.

Total enlistment in the British Armed Forces is around 184,000, with the approx. 105,000 personnel in the army, 36,000 in the navy and 41,000 in the air force.

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Filed by Jocelyn Richard  |