Press release

Greater flexibility for drug testing in police stations

Police forces will now have greater freedom and flexibility to drug test people on arrest, James Brokenshire announced today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Until now, police forces have had to apply for authorisation from the Home Office to ‘test on arrest’ at specific police stations. Once this authorisation was granted the station would test at least 95 per cent of those arrested for certain ‘trigger offences’ such as burglary.

From today chief constables will just need to inform the Home Office that they are using this power. Dropping this target, and simplifying the process, will remove a considerable bureaucratic burden from forces and local partners.

Identifying drug-using offenders can significantly cut drug-related crime as it helps police and other agencies get offenders, whose crimes are driven by their drug dependence, into treatment to support their recovery.

Minister for crime prevention James Brokenshire said: ‘We are determined to free the police from needless bureaucracy and pointless national targets. By scrapping the requirement for police to apply for authorisation to test on arrest, we are giving officers the flexibility to test where it is appropriate.

‘Drug testing on arrest is a vital part of the work police and local partners do to reduce drug related crime locally. We must give those who know what works in their neighbourhood the power to develop plans which meet local needs.’

All 43 police forces in England and Wales have the power to drug test people who have been arrested if officers have reasonable grounds for suspecting they have used specified Class A drugs (heroin or cocaine).

If the person tests positive for a Class A drug they are legally required to attend an assessment with a trained drug worker who will make a series of recommendations to support their recovery These recommendations, which could include attending treatment, can be taken into account by the courts when setting bail conditions or sentencing.

At present drug testing is operational in 23 police force areas and some 160 custody suites, with around 230,000 tests conducted every year for specified Class A substances - heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine.

Notes to editors

  1. The new provisions do not mean forces have to introduce drug testing. However, if in discussion with local partners, police forces would like to introduce drug testing for certain offences they will now to be able to so. The drug testing must be authorised by a police officer of at least inspector rank and the Home Office must be informed by the Chief Constable that the police force is using the provision. To view the operational process guidance visit

  2. Minister for crime prevention James Brokenshire today wrote to all Chief Constables and Chairs of Drug and Alcohol Action Teams (DAATs) to inform them of the change.

3. The provision only applies to people aged 18 or over and is available from today for all police force areas across England and Wales.

4. For more information please contact Home Office Press Office on 020 7035 3535.

Published 31 March 2011