Do drug seizures reduce drug use?

Do drug seizures reduce drug use and drug harms? Can they reduce the number of people testing positive for drugs on the roads and at work? Credit GRAS GRÜN

If you watch, read or listen to the news, you’ll know the media regularly highlights big drug busts in Australia. In the last week alone, authorities have discovered a record amount of fentanyl in machinery sent from Canada to Melbourne and seized $675 million worth of ICE concealed in marble tiles.

The assumption of many people is that drug seizures like these and subsequent supplier arrests will help reduce the drug issue. The belief is they’ll deter drug crime and impact the amount and purity of drugs hitting the streets. Thereby, seizures reduce drug use and, even more importantly, reduce drug harms.

But is it the case?

We should point out that direct evidence of the effect of drug seizures on drug use and drug harms is reasonably thin on the ground. However, what evidence there is suggests that seizures don’t really have much impact at all.

For example, The impact of arrest and seizure on drug crime and harms: A systematic review (Eggins E et al. 2020, Australian Institute of Criminology) looked at 13 impact evaluation studies.

In the review, the authors noted that there was no evidence that supported the assumption that seizures and arrests led to reduced drug crime, use and harm. “In fact, research suggests that reactive enforcement activities – such as seizures and arrests – can actually increase crime without reducing drug consumption or other harm.”

In another study, Do drug seizures predict drug-related emergency department presentations or arrests for drug use and possession? (Wan W-Y, et al. 2016), the authors looked at “… whether seizures of heroin, cocaine and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) predict the number of people arrested for use and possession of these drugs and the number overdosing on them.”

Their conclusion – on the balance of evidence – is that increases in seizure frequency and quantity are signs of increased supply.

In addition, “Over the short term (i.e. up to 4 months), increases in the intensity of high-level drug law enforcement (as measured by seizure weight and frequency) directed at ATS, cocaine and heroin did not appear to have any suppression effect on emergency department (ED) presentations relating to ATS, cocaine and heroin, or on arrests for use and/or possession of these drugs.”

None of this means that law enforcement on drugs, seizures and supplier arrests aren’t important. It simply means they are only part of the solution and more needs to be done to reduce drug use and drug harms.

What does this have to do with drug testing?

What does all this have to do with roadside and workplace drug testing?

Positive drug tests, whether involving drivers behind the wheel or employees in the workplace, are essentially another negative impact of drug use. While there are no doubt people who take drugs and do the right thing by not driving or going to work, there are people who do.

Therefore, if we could reduce the number of people who take drugs, it would be expected that there’s be less positive drug tests.


Do drug seizures reduce drug use and drug harms? Can they reduce the number of people testing positive for drugs on the roads and at work? Credit GRAS GRÜN


By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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