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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 14:19 GMT
Soldiers speak about drug abuse
British soldier in Afghanistan
British soldiers are trying to reduce the opium trade in Afghanistan
The British army has never had so many soldiers discharged for taking drugs. The service dismissed 769 personnel last year, though the percentage figure is still much lower than in the wider population.

Although most serving and former soldiers have spoken out against the use of drugs, there are differences of opinion.

Some want a zero tolerance approach, while others feel that it is leading to some good troops being forced out.

Drugs raid

One former soldier, who served in the Staffordshire Regiment, was kicked out in 2004 after taking drugs.

"I was on leave at home and feeling stressed out. An old mate of mine offered me some cannabis and I took it. I just wanted to unwind but it was a bad mistake."

The issue for me really is one of youngsters not being looked after properly
Mick
Royal Army Medical Corps

It certainly was. When he returned there was a compulsory drugs test. The camp was locked down and nobody was allowed to leave until testing was complete.

The soldier knew immediately he was going to get caught: "I was scared, it was my job at the end of the day. When the results came through the welfare officer talked to me. He was more disappointed than angry.

"My mates felt I'd let the side down."

He said a few others tested positive: "There was some drug taking on camp. It was not really bad but it happens."

Others though took drugs purely to escape the Army: "Those people are weak. It's an easy way out."

Another soldier, Mick, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, agreed: "I certainly saw with my own eyes youngsters going off to take drugs when the CDT team arrived, so that they could get an early discharge."

But he is less judgemental about their reasons for doing it: "The issue for me really is one of youngsters not being looked after properly."

Experimentation

Major Chris Lincoln Jones, a former soldier, is also aware that some of his former colleagues had taken drugs.

"A little bit of experimentation goes on, I think, and people fall foul of that."

British soldier in Bosnia
There has been a four-fold increase in cocaine abuse

Another former soldier, Major Justin Featherstone, said the figures did not surprise him. He pointed out that young people often came from a culture where drug use was common. They also had to face huge stress with regular tours of duty, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said some soldiers shown to be suffering from combat stress had been allowed to stay in the service.

But Rob Brown, a former Royal Marine, disagreed fundamentally.

Zero tolerance

During his 22 years in the military, he had only known of one case of drug abuse. It was a sergeant who was immediately dismissed.

"I first knew about it at 0900 and he was gone by lunchtime. I was surprised but glad he was gone."

He served in battle as a section commander and said he needed to know he could trust his men. And he dismissed suggestions that drug abuse was due to combat stress.

"We were all under pressure but you've got a mind of your own. If you've got a problem then you should go and speak to the padre. That's what he's there for."

SEE ALSO
Dismissal for drug test soldiers
13 Nov 07 |  Scotland

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