Drug detection and its role in law enforcement


The detection of drugs has an important role to play in many areas of society, such as sport, suspicious deaths, violent crime, and travel and work safety. Drug testing technology has been available for the past 40 years, but it is only in the past 10 years that Australia has begun to use drug testing on a much wider scale, particularly within the criminal justice system. This is due to two factors—an increase in drug-related problems in our society and advances in the technology itself.

Currently, testing for illicit drugs is primarily through urinalysis. Less invasive methods are available but have limitations, as this paper reports. Another problem area is the capacity for current drug detection technologies to differentiate between use and intoxication. Although such matters appear arcane and of little relevance to the daily lives of citizens, these are important matters within a law enforcement context where individuals can be deprived of their liberty.

The development and practical application of new drug detection technologies has the potential to play an increasingly important role in law enforcement efforts to track the source of drugs entering Australia. However, it is clear that further technological developments are needed and this requires significant investments in training and research.

The issue of drug testing raises wider questions about the extent to which we should act to detect drugs in the first place. These are difficult questions which require community discussion and debate to inform policy.