Police shocked by results in road drug blitz

IT was a three-day blitz that produced drug-detection figures more commonly seen at music festivals or concerts.

But specialist drug testing police who swept through Maitland, Cessnock and Singleton this week said they had not intended to ‘‘slur a community’’ or imply the ‘‘majority of motorists in the Hunter are driving with drugs in their system’’.

The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that nearly 40per cent of motorists pulled over during the first day of the random drug testing blitz had tested positive. Out of the 55 drivers, 21 had tested positive to traces of methamphetamine, ecstasy or cannabis. On Thursday, the percentage was about the same, as another 27people returned positive swabs.

It was only by yesterday, following significant publicity on the blitz, that the figure was reduced. The results of the operation surprised even those conducting it, with the commander of the Random Drug Testing Unit, Inspector Steve Blair, saying he was ‘‘amazed’’ as more men and women were brought to the drug bus having failed a roadside test. Some had quizzical looks on their face, many were sceptical they would test positive a second time. But, as Inspector Blair was quick to explain, police were not alleging the motorists were ‘‘under the influence or affected by drugs’’.

‘‘The offence is having an illicit drug present in oral fluid,’’ he said. ‘The amount of time a drug stays in someone’s system varies, I don’t like to speculate, but it can be up to 10 days.

‘‘It may be a surprise to some people but the message is that we’re saying don’t do drugs and especially, if you do drugs, don’t drive a motor vehicle.’’

Inspector Blair is head of the unit that looks at random drug testing across the state. Recently, it held operations in Central West NSW, at Byron Bay for Splendour in the Grass, at Cooma as part of Operation Snow Safe and in the south-west at Gundagai, Wagga Wagga and Tumut. According to Inspector Blair, the unit liaised with local area commands and reviewed intelligence to determine if an area was due for a blitz.

‘‘But in the case of Maitland, Cessnock and Singleton, the drug detection was triggered because it had been some time since we’d been up to that area,’’ Inspector Blair said.

The operation was a combined effort from the Traffic & Highway Patrol and Central Hunter police.

‘‘The local police pull over the drivers, who undergo a random breath test for alcohol and if that proves positive, the officer conducts a roadside drug test, which is a swab of the tongue, that takes about five minutes,’’ Mr Blair said.

‘‘If it comes back as a positive indication on that screening, then they return to the drug bus or the police station and undergo a secondary drug screening.

‘‘If that comes back positive, the person is banned from driving for 24 hours and importantly, that’s where the police action stops.

‘‘We send the samples to the Division of Analytical Laboratories at Lidcombe and scientists forensically examine the sample and make a determination if illicit drugs is present in oral fluid.’’

Sydney Drug Testing Kits

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