By Darragh McDonagh
The Defence Forces are set to pay around €130,000 to a private company to carry out random drug testing on its personnel in the next four years.
An average of 12 members of the army, navy, and air corps tested positive for illegal drugs each year between 2012 and 2016. A further four failed as a result of missing the tests.
The military is now seeking tenders from companies to provide drug-testing services in the coming years. The intention is to screen approximately 2,000 personnel annually over the course of 20 to 30 operations.
The estimated value of the contract is €130,000 excluding Vat, according to tender documents, while the Defence Forces will also cover travel and subsistence costs for the successful bidder in respect of drug tests both here and overseas.
Testing will be carried out on a random basis at military installations around the country and at a small number of locations overseas where Irish military personnel are deployed.
The company will provide laboratory services, apparatus, and personnel for the performance of the drug tests, and will operate under the direction of a designated Defence Forces officer.
The firm will be given one week’s notice of random drug tests to be conducted at Irish locations, and three weeks’ notice of operations to be conducted at installations overseas.
The contract was held by Alere Toxicology between 2012 and 2016, during which time it was paid a total of €199,673. Approximately 5,375 random drug tests were carried out by the firm, and 47 Defence Force members tested positive for illegal drugs.
Currently, military personnel are tested for illicit drug use by means of urine samples. However, the tender documents note that hair testing may be required over the course of the new contract.
Hair follicle drug tests can determine patterns of illicit drug use or the misuse of prescription medication over a period of around three months. They can be used to test for specific drugs or drug classes. A spokesperson for the Defence Forces said that compulsory random drug testing has been in use for more than 10 years.
Official regulations state that “the unlawful possession, supply or use of a controlled drug is incompatible with membership of the Defence Forces”.
Of the 63 personnel deemed to have failed random drug tests during a five-year period to 2017, six were discharged, 23 were discharged by purchase, and four were retained but required to undergo targeted drug testing.
A total of 14 personnel were recorded as “service no longer required”, while others retired or were retained without conditions, according to data released in response to a parliamentary question.