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Gardai perform own drug testing to beat backlog

RANK-and-file gardai are to become drug analysts under new plans to cut a large backlog of substance tests at the Forensic Science Laboratory.

The Herald has learned that a new drug-testing system is being introduced in an effort to speed up court cases. A number of drugs gardai around Dublin are being trained by scientists from the State's Forensic Science Laboratory to analyse small quantities of suspected drug substances, in amounts of €5 to €100.

Known as "presumptive" drug testing, the system is used to convict for possessing small amounts of cannabis resin, ecstasy, cannabis herb, cocaine, amphetamines and BZP.


It does not require a report on the substance from the State's Forensic Science Laboratory, cutting down on paperwork and certification.

A presumptive drug testing scheme was piloted at last year's Oxegen concert, and was so successful that it is now being rolled out all across Dublin.

It is hoped the new testing system will help to free up the scientists in the forensic lab so they can focus on the larger drugs seizures, which generally involve more serious drug dealing charges. It is also hoped the new presumptive testing regime -- which is part of the Government's National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 -- will enable minor drugs cases to be fast-tracked through the courts.

Gardai also expect the new system will prevent minor drugs matters from being struck out due to the delays in getting a certificate of analysis.

Up until recently, all suspected drug substances were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory to be analysed, and delays of 12 to 16 weeks -- in some cases, even longer -- were common.

Many solicitors advise a client not to plead guilty to possession of drugs unless there is a certificate of analysis.

In an effort to shift the backlog of cases, the science lab has trained a number of gardai to analyse small quantities of drugs, and have given them the materials to test the drugs in their own garda stations. If a solicitor in court questions the presumptive testing done by the gardai, that sample will be sent to the science lab, and fast-tracked through there.

The director general of the laboratory, Dr Sheila Willis, has attributed the delay in the processing of drug analysis to the increase in seizures by gardai.