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How Effective Is Street Drug Testing?

David Otiashvili

David Otiashvili1, I. Kirtadze1, T. Zabransky2. 1Addiction Research Center, Union Alternative Georgia, Georgia; 2Centre for Addictology, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

Background: In Georgia, about 50,000 people annually are detained by the police on the streets and tested for drugs. Positive test results lead to high penalties or imprisonment. It has been argued that hunting for and testing thousands of people annually for drugs has very limited influence on the level of drug use.

Research questions: Research questions were as follows: (1) How much did the state spend on random street drug testing and consequent legal measures in 2008? (2) What were the impacts of random street testing for the drug users in terms of their drug career/use and related disorders? (3) What could be achieved if the funds specified in (1) had been spent to increase the availability of opioid substitution therapy?

Methodology: This was a semi-economic study using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques, including surveys using assisted questionnaires, qualitative interviews and focus group discussions, expenditure calculations, and economic modeling.

Results: In 2008, 43,029 individuals were tested for drugs and 1,605 persons were sentenced to prison for repeated drug use. About $16 million was paid in drug-related fines. An average drug-testing episode took 8.43 policemen per hour. Out of 491 persons in our sample tested for drugs, only 7 percent stopped using drugs, but the majority of them for no longer than 1 month and none for longer than 11 months.

Conclusions: Study results show that the punishment and imprisonment of drug users in Georgia has little or no influence on drug-related behavior and is a nonsensical waste of police resources. Results of the economic modeling also will be presented.

Acknowledgment: This study was supported by a grant from the Open Society Georgia Foundation.

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Central Asia
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