How effective is street drug testing?

Speaker: David Otiashvili (Union Alternative Georgia, Addiction Research Center, Georgia).

Background: In Georgia about 50,000 people annually are detained by the police in the street and tested for drugs. Positive test results lead to high financial penalties or imprisonment. It has been argued that stopping and drug-testing thousands of people annually has a very limited influence on the level of drug use. Research Questions: a) How much did the state spend on random street drug testing and consecutive legal measures in 2008? b) What was the impact of random street testing for drug-users in terms of their drug career/use, and related disorders? c) What could be achieved if the funds specified in part a) had instead been spent on increasing of the availability of OST? Methodology: This is a semi-economic study using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques, surveys using assisted questionnaires, qualitative interviews and focus group discussions, expenditure calculations and economic modelling. Results: 43,029 drug tests were performed in 2008. 1605 people were sentenced to prison for repeated drug use. About $16 million was paid in drug-related fines. In 84.5% of cases drug-use related fines were paid from sources other than legal income of the fined person (e.g., family, friends, loans, criminal activity). An average drug testing episode took 8.43 policeman/hour. Based on the most conservative, minimalistic calculations, the total annual cost of drug testing and consecutive legal procedures and measures constituted about 18 million GEL ($11.2 million). Out of 491 people in our sample tested for drugs, 11% stopped using drugs, but the majority for no longer than 1 month and none for longer than 11 months. Conclusions: Study results show that the punishment and imprisonment of drug-users in Georgia has no or little influence on drug-related behaviour, and is a nonsensical waste of police resources. Punitive measures that have no analogue in developed democratic countries did not result in any measurable reduction of drug use, caused harmful criminalisation of 1,605 people, which is known to lead drug users into an involvement not only in “consensual” drug crime, but also into criminal activities significantly more dangerous for public order; Acknowledgment: This study was supported by a grant from Open Society Georgia Foundation.

CV: David Otiashvili: Education and degrees: PhD Study, Specialization – Health Psychology, the Center for Addictology, Psychiatric Clinic of the First Medical Faculty, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic; 2007-present, Certificate of Graduate Study, Specialization – Public Health, Drug Abuse Research; 2003-2004, the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA. Diploma of Qualification in Anesthesiology and Reanimation; 1999, Georgian State Medical Academy of After Diploma Education, Tbilisi, Georgia, Certificate of Intern Practice, Qualification – Psychiatrist; 1992-1993, Republican Psychiatric Hospital, Tbilisi, Georgia. MD Diploma, Qualification – Physician; 1984-1992 Tbilisi State Medical Institute, Tbilisi, Georgia; Work positions: Director, Addiction Research Center, Union Alternative Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2004-present; Senior Researcher, Georgian Research Institute on Addiction, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2004-2006; Doctor-Addictionist, Georgian Research Institute on Addiction, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1993-2003.