Since launching a campaign to get New South Wales Police to stop roadside drug testing, Greens’ Justice spokesman David Shoebridge has accused police of targeting drug users from lower socio-economic backgrounds because their tests do not check for the presence of cocaine.
The roadside drug tests used by NSW Police, which is increasing the number of such tests it performs across the state, only identify three types of drugs: cannabis; amphetamines and methamphetamine; and MDMA.
As Fairfax Media reports, Mr Shoebridge believes that because of this, police are targeting drug users from certain social classes.
“At least part of the answer lies in the fact that cocaine is overwhelming used by those with higher incomes and higher socioeconomic status,” Mr Shoebridge says.
“If [Premier Mike] Baird extended the flawed roadside testing regime to cocaine he would get a lot of grief in the Liberal heartland of the eastern and northern suburbs of Sydney.”
National surveys have noted that cocaine was used by around 2.1 per cent of all Australians in the last 12 months, but is being used at different rates by different sections of society.
Federal Government research from 2013 says the most “socio-economically advantaged” 20 per cent of Australians use cocaine three times more than the bottom 20 per cent, whereas methamphetamine and amphetamine appear to be more preferred by people in the lowest socio-economic groups. MDMA was also more popular with the wealthy.
A NSW Police spokesman says cocaine is “under-represented” in statistics about the causes of road trauma, and says police focus on drugs which are “major, contributing factors” to such trauma. The spokesman says 3.2 per cent of drug tests collected at roadside incidents returned a positive reading for cocaine last financial year.
Mr Shoebridge cites British research which found that cocaine was the second most commonly detected drug in roadside drug tests, with about five per cent of drivers involved in traffic accidents where blood samples were collected testing positive for cocaine.
“Roadside drug testing needs to be drastically changed to test for all the drugs that are commonly found to impair driving,” Mr Shoebridge says.
Dräger, the German multinational which supplies roadside testing machines to police, says it has the ability to detect cocaine, opiates, ketamine and prescription medications not currently tested for in NSW. In the United Kingdom, police have begun roadside tests for cocaine and ecstasy.
In Australia, concerns have been raised after arrests from roadside drug tests doubled in the past year, with Deputy Premier Troy Grant recently announcing plans to triple roadside drug testing to 97,000 tests each year by 2017.
A Change.org petition launched by Mr Shoebridge earlier this month calling for the end of roadside drug testing has now received over 11,500 signatures at the time of writing.
Watch: NSW Police Launch Mobile Drug Testing