Early drug testing is being introduced for police suspects to get addicts out of crime and into treatment.

People arrested on suspicion of drug-related crimes such as theft are being made to have their mouth swabbed to test for traces of illegal substances.

Even if they are not formally charged with any crime, anyone who tested positive for drugs would have to attend a meeting with a drugs worker - and could be prosecuted if they do not.

The drug intervention programme is already under way in Crawley. It is being introduced in Hastings in January and Brighton and Hove drugs services are ready to follow suit if police bosses are impressed by the results.

Chief constable Martin Richards is due to announce the East Sussex part of the scheme at a Sussex Police Authority meeting on Thursday.

A statement sent to members of the authority said: “It will provide a useful tool in tackling the underlying drug abuse which is the trigger for a large number of offences.”

Justin Grantham, who works with drug users as harm reduction manager for Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI) in Brighton and Hove, said: “We are going to watch very carefully and we may want to roll it out in Brighton if it is a success in Hastings.”

The link between drugs and certain crimes underpins the force’s strategy in Brighton and Hove.

Operation Reduction was set up in 2005 with a two-pronged approach to get dealers off the streets and addicts into treatment.

It followed recognition by police that most car crime, burglary and theft is carried out by drug addicts motivated to steal to fund their habit.

Since then, according to Mr Richards’s statement, total crime has fallen by 33% and house burglaries by 35% in the city.

The importance of proactive work was highlighted last week when a man died of a suspected drug overdose in a McDonald’s toilet in Western Road, Brighton.

Police have issued warnings through drugs workers to inform heroin users that a strong batch of drugs may be causing accidental overdoses in the city.

Overdoses are known to take place due to the effects of some cutting agents, used to dilute the drug, and due to higher-than-normal purities which mean addicts use the same amount as their regular dose but get unexpectedly stronger effects.

CRI has received reports of about five non-fatal overdoses in the last few weeks, while police say they have recorded three deaths in the last three weeks.

Accidental overdoses were also behind the introduction of methadone dispensers in Lewes Prison.

Health workers and prison authorities realised that addicts who were detoxed on short-term sentences, but released while still psychologically dependent on the drug, were at high risk of death when released because they would no longer have a tolerance to the amount they would normally take.

Short-term prisoners who are not thought suitable for detoxing are now managed using the heroin replacement methadone to reduce the risk of death when they are released.