London, Oct 28 (UNI) Eighteen British servicemen test positive for drug use each week, according to data from the Ministry of Defence.
Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, the use of cocaine has trebled and the drug is now found in the majority of those soldiers who fail drugs tests.
More than 1,500 forces personnel (almost 1 per cent of soldiers in the Army) have tested positive for drugs since the beginning of 2006 -- 80 per cent of whom were using class A drugs -- according to figures from the Ministry's random drug testing programme.
The number of British Army personnel testing positive for drugs rose from 518 in 2003 to 769 in 2006 -- a 48 per cent increase.
Cocaine accounted for 423 failed tests, far ahead of cannabis (221) and Ecstasy (95).
However, addiction experts opined that soldiers who take drugs often use them to self-medicate and escape an ''uncomfortable and dangerous reality where death is ever present''.
''Soldiers are in a particularly difficult situation. We are talking about people going out to fight wars, and we have to be sympathetic to the immense stress that they are under,'' Robert Lefever, director of Promis, one of Britain's longest-established addiction treatment centres was quoted by the Independent as saying.
''There will be some who take drugs as a way of dealing with the pressures that they face, not simply to get high. Soldiers are having a bad time at the moment and deserve more support and understanding,'' he said.
According to the MoD, since the start of 2006 the Army has had 1,397 positive drug tests and the highest percentage of hard drugs (80 per cent), while only 88 Navy personnel have tested positive (76 per cent for class A drugs) and only 27 Royal Air Force personnel (67 per cent for class A drugs).
The tests are carried out while soldiers are back at base in the UK, Cyprus or Germany, and a failed test usually means instant dismissal from the forces.
An Defence Ministry spokesman said drug use in the armed services was far lower than in the population at large.