Salvos fired up in defence drug claim
THE Salvation Army is not surprised to hear claims of a defence force drug culture, saying it would be a natural progression from a major alcohol problem gripping Townsville soldiers. The Bulletin yesterday reported claims drugs and steroids were commonly used and trafficked into Australia by soldiers as the Defence Department confirmed it had started an investigation with the Queensland Police Ser- vice into the alleged abuse of illicit drugs.
The lack of surprise from the Salvation Army’s support staff comes as former defence chief Peter Cosgrove yesterday told the Bulletin there was no drug culture while he was at the helm six years ago.
‘‘ I was obviously never aware of anything,’’ he said.
‘‘ If I had thought there was a drug culture there ( in Townsville), I would have been all over them like a tonne of bricks.’’
The department yesterday refused to comment on the investigation and would not respond to the allegations or say how many soldiers had been implicated.
Salvation Army Drug and Alcohol Services manager Major Bruce Harmer said he was not aware of a drug problem among soldiers, but it could be the next step in substance abuse.
‘‘ I am very much aware of a fairly well-developed and long-standing drinking culture at the barracks,’’ he said.
‘‘ Alcohol and tobacco are ‘ gate keeper’ drugs, so when people use those things to excess, they can often lead to other substances, so with such a strong drinking culture in the place, it would probably follow that there would be a number of people using drugs as well.’’
Maj Harmer said the army’s strong drinking culture had to be addressed before other problems could be fixed. He said while the practice was built on camaraderie and bonding, it could quickly spiral into ‘‘ selfmedication’’.
‘‘ By using alcohol or drugs, you’re about to hide the pain, the shame or the guilt or whatever it is,’’ he said.
‘‘ Unfortunately, you need more each time to get the same effect and that’s why people find themselves in trouble.’’
Maj Harmer said any zerotolerance policies within the defence community could also hinder recovery, given soldiers would be concerned about losing their jobs.
He said he welcomed news the defence force was looking to hire alcohol, tobacco and other drugs co-ordinators.
‘‘ If someone in the army reads this article, reach out to those people,’’ he said.
‘‘ I would imagine they will help without disclosing to their superiors.’’
Maj Harmer said those wanting help for substance abuse problems could also call the Salvos’ Drug and Alcohol Centre on 4772 3607.