Diggers addicted to cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs
DIGGERS are using cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs while on tours of duty in Afghanistan and are returning home as addicts.
Freedom of Information figures reveal hundreds of soldiers, sailors and airmen have tested positive to a string of illegal drugs since Australian troops were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Young Diggers president John Jarrett said many soldiers were mainly developing addictions to cocaine, which he claimed was "cheap as chips" in Afghanistan.
"Soldiers (are) going over there, healthy and normal, and coming back with all kinds of addictions," Mr Jarrett said.
"I do know the ADF is very concerned about the problem.
"We're seeing cocaine and marijuana as the major ones, but there's heroin around and all sorts of other drugs.
"Cocaine is the biggest problem though, because it's as cheap as chips."
The ADF personnel are understood to be turning to illicit substances, such as marijuana and cocaine, to medicate themselves for psychological problems that they developed overseas.
Mr Jarrett said it was likely the soldiers were sourcing the illicit substances from foreign troops, particularly US forces, who serve alongside them in joint operations fighting the Taliban.
An internal US intelligence report has raised concerns about increased heroin use among bored and susceptible US soldiers.
The report, made public this month, claims heroin is widely available in Afghanistan and is sold cheaply to allied forces as a tactical weapon to undermine their skills in battle.
Documents obtained by The Sunday Mail under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act reveal the drugs are being used by defence personnel across Australia.
Between 2004 and 2009, 351 soldiers, airmen and sailors had been given their marching orders after testing positive to illegal substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, steroids, opiates or marijuana.
In that time, 653 positive readings were identified from 42,784 tests carried out.
This year, 73 positive drug tests were recorded from January to August.
Of all the barracks, NSW fared the worst, with Sydney's HMAS Kuttabul recording 90 positive drug readings – the highest among any barracks or training facility in the entire country.
Queensland barracks in Brisbane and Townsville recorded the second worst results, followed by the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Two soldiers – one based in Sydney and another in Townsville tested positive for cocaine – and three other Queensland soldiers tested positive for steroids.
Steroids were also detected in 10 tests at Australian bases in East Timor.
Cannabis was the most common drug found during urine tests, followed by ecstasy.
One young soldier, who was about to leave on his fourth overseas deployment, sought help from Young Diggers over recent months to fight a cocaine addiction.
"He was pretty screwed up after tours to Iraq and East Timor and he is about to be deployed overseas again," Mr Jarrett said.
"He began self-medicating so he could function properly in normal society, when in actual fact it was doing the opposite.
"He'd lost touch with reality and was trying to block out what he had seen.
"It's no excuse (for drug abuse), but it's understandable considering many are reluctant to speak with Defence about their problems for fear of being discharged."
He said the overwhelming majority of ADF personnel seeking counselling said they turned to drugs because they could not admit to army doctors they had a problem.
"All we hear is that they don't want to go to the military medic for prescription medicine because it goes on their permanent record, making them unsuitable for deployment and, therefore, unsuitable for the ADF."
A spokesman for Defence Personnel Minister Greg Combet said rigorous schemes were in place to test anyone for drug abuse.
"We would encourage anybody who feels that they are suffering from an addiction to come forward and receive treatment straight away, as the health of our personnel is the most important thing," he said.
"The Government will continue to monitor closely the health of all our ADF personnel – that is why they undergo annual health tests.
"The information presented to us is that there has been no positive drug tests from deployed operational personnel."
Opposition defence spokesman Bob Baldwin said he would seek answers on the matter when Federal Parliament resumed tomorrow.
"I'll be asking the Minister and the department for a full briefing on this issue," he said.
"I would be very disappointed if indeed that has been occurring and I would be looking for intervention by Defence.
"In the theatre of operation, if you have people on illicit drugs they're putting themselves and also their colleagues at risk."
Samantha Healy and Yoni Bashan
November 22, 2009 12:00am
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