PEOPLE arrested for drugs and theft offences could be tested for illegal substances as part of a new scheme.

The Home Office has given Essex Police £718,000 for a scheme called Drug Testing on Arrest to combat the drug-related crime.

The programme will be run for two years and will be evaluated by Essex University.

Nick Alston, Essex’s crime commissioner, said: “Class A drug users often commit a significant proportion of acquisitive crime.

“The programme aims to identify whether a person arrested on suspicion of certain offences is a Class A drug user, and if so facilitate their access to treatment.

“The evidence shows successful treatment for drug misuse will significantly reduce reoffending, and keep our communities safer.”

When someone is arrested on suspicion of crimes directly related to drugs, such as drugs possession, or crimes that could indirectly related, such as burglary, theft and robbery, the custody officers staff will consider whether a drug test is appropriate.

If the test is approved by an inspector, a compulsory saliva swab will be taken.

If it comes back positive, help and treatment for drug use will be made available.

Derek Benson, Essex Police’s Deputy Chief Constable, said “Testing such as this offers Essex Police another valuable tool alongside education and enforcement in tackling drug misuse.”

According to research by the National Treatment Agency, a heroin or crack cocaine user costs society more than £25,000 a year.

Home Office research revealed a 26 per cent drop in reoffending following a positive test in custody and subsequent help.

The scheme will run throughout the county.

It is hoped 800 people will be referred for treatment.

A pilot scheme in Chelmsford saw 53 people referred for treatment and 37 people received help.