17 December 2003

A unique study into the prevalence of drug abuse among people being arrested has found some surprising revelations that could have implications for police and the community at large.

The study showed 86% of people arrested had a substance-use disorder compared to just 7% in the general population.

The research was supervised by The University of Queensland’s Head of the Department of Psychiatry Associate Professor Gerard Byrne and Professor John Saunders, Chair of Alcohol and Drug Studies.

The study also found amphetamines to be the most abused drug, reflecting the increased use of the drug in the community.

“The most interesting thing about the findings is the astoundingly high prevalence of substance-use disorders in arrestees,” Associate Professor Byrne said.

“It raises the question of why so many people are dependent upon substances.

“Are they involved in crime to support drug use, or driven by the effects of drugs?

“Or is it easier to arrest people who are under the influence of drugs?

“The implications for police and mental health workers who have to deal with arrestees are quite large.

“The study raises all sorts of questions about matters to do with alcohol and drugs and public policy and policing.”

The study also found arrestees in these circumstances were highly distressed mentally.

The study, published recently in the Medical Journal of Australia, was authored by Brisbane psychiatrist Edward Heffernan with assistance from Joe Finn, and Associate Professor Byrne said it was an outstanding piece of first-time research.

The study was completed by Dr Heffernan during his fifth and final year of training for the Fellowship of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

Media: For more information contact Associate Professor Gerard Byrne (telephone 07 3365 5148) or Jan King at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 1120).