De­fence on front foot in drugs bat­tle

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

ON the sur­face, the find­ings about drug use in the Aus­tralian De­fence Force are dis­turb­ing.

Al­most 80 Townsville army per­son­nel have been kicked out in the past five years af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for drugs. The il­licit sub­stances in­cluded ec­stasy, cannabis and steroids.

One per­son was caught us­ing opi­ates and 10 were busted for us­ing ben­zo­di­azepines. An­other six tested pos­i­tive for co­caine use. That is con­cern­ing. But other fac­tors should be taken into ac­count.

There are more than 6000 De­fence per­son­nel in Townsville and only about 1.3 per cent have been kicked out of the mil­i­tary for drug use.

Com­pare that with the na­tional av­er­age in Aus­tralia. Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Health and Wel­fare about 42 per cent of peo­ple have used drugs in their life­time and 15 per cent use drugs reg­u­larly.

And the ADF is work­ing hard to make a change.

As De­fence Per­son­nel Min­is­ter Dan Tehan rightly said, the use of drugs is in­com­pat­i­ble with an ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient de­fence force.

The ADF will now in­ves­ti­gate us­ing new test­ing tech­niques by ex­am­in­ing hair and saliva sam­ples.

But there could be a deeper is­sue at play here.

Are mem­bers of the de­fence force strug­gling to cope?

Is the drug use a symp­tom of an un­der­ly­ing prob­lem?

Is there enough men­tal health sup­port avail­able to our troops?

It’s clear some mem­bers of De­fence strug­gle to tran­si­tion back into civil­ian life af­ter ser­vice.

Let’s not for­get at the end of the day the peo­ple who sign up are mak­ing an enor­mous sac­ri­fice — po­ten­tially the ultimate one.

That should al­ways be taken into ac­count. The ADF rightly has a zero tol­er­ance ap­proach to drugs.

It should go with­out say­ing there is no place for drug use by the ADF, es­pe­cially on the front line.

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