Police charge 22 drug drivers in Gympie

A LEARNER driver and her supervisor were among 22 drug drivers, caught in a four-day random drug testing operation which ended in Gympie yesterday.

"Horrendous" Gympie Road Policing Command officer-in-charge Peter Webster said.

Sgt Webster said police would be training and equipping more officers to tackle the problem.

"It's a growth industry," he said.

Gympie scored double the state average for drug driving detections.

"Out of the 107 tests, 22 showed positive, six for methamphetamine and the rest for cannabis.

"It's one in 10 statewide, but one in five in Gympie," he said.

GYMPIE police were boosted by members of the specialist Brisbane-based Drug Testing Unit, during a four-day operation in Gympie.

Unit member Richard Leonars said the generally higher proportion of positive drug results, compared to drink-driving detections, was partly due to effective police profiling.

Smaller numbers of much more expensive drug test units meant police often had to target drivers who showed other indications.

"When you've done it a while, you get to recognise some signs," Snr Cnst Leonars said.

"But we've had some surprising results as well," he said, "from professional people, particularly for meth."

"It's a growth industry," Sgt Webster said yesterday, promising increased enforcement.

"It's all stepping up," he said of expanding police resources for the problem.

And while more Gympie police are being trained in the relatively new testing technology, A/Cnst Leonars said the Drug Testing Unit would continue to work with local police, "to boost numbers" when needed.

"We probably do three million drink-driving tests a year, but only 25,000 drug tests are planned this year.

"The general ratio for drink-driving is one in 140, down from one in 100 earlier" - so the message is getting out about drink-driving.

"But drug testing is still in its infancy in Queensland. It's like alcohol testing was when you had to breathe into a bag and turn the crystals green.

"The technology is advancing and the cost is coming down," he said.

"Limited numbers are largely a function of cost, with a three-stage testing procedure - the initial saliva sample test, a verification test on drug testing unit vehicles and thirdly, a laboratory test on the sample."

One of Gympie's drug-test qualified police Mark Woitowitz, said Gympie police, when operating on their own, had to take drivers to hospital for a blood test, if they tested positive at the roadside.

"But while the drug tests are expensive and fines probably do not cover the costs of a prosecution, there are other offences detected as well," he said.

"We probably caught 13 unlicensed or disqualified drivers as well," Sgt Webster said.

"And there are follow-on searches," Snr Cnst Woitowitz said.

"They can turn up drugs in the car, so possession charges can follow and, down the track, the information gets to the CIB and they follow up (with household raids) and get pretty good results too."

Snr Cnst Leonars said the equipment is very reliable. "Probably 99.85% of positive readings are confirmed.

"And most of the difference is because the drugs have broken down during the wait for testing and are no longer in detectable quantities."

Sgt Webster said as the advancing technology became cheaper and more police were trained in its use, drug testing would become more common.

"We're all trained in breath testing, but only a few can do drug tests at this stage."

"But that will change."

Learners and supervisors must be drug free, he said.


Duration of operation: four days, ending yesterday

Drug drive tests administered: 107

Positive results: 22

Proportions: Queensland average, one in 10; Gympie average, one in five

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