Urinalysis testing expands to some prescription drugs

by Jon Stock
Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

3/9/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Air Force and other military services will expand their drug testing to include testing for commonly abused prescription drugs beginning May 1.

On Jan. 31, the Secretary of Defense gave a 90-day advance notice of the drug testing expansion, which aims to counter the nation's growing epidemic and encourage those abusing prescription medications to seek treatment before official testing begins.

"Abuse of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, and unfortunately, this trend is reflected in the military services," said Maj. Gen. Thomas W. Travis, deputy Air Force surgeon general. "While pain medications are highly effective in alleviating suffering from injuries, they are dangerous and potentially addictive when used outside medical supervision."

Taking controlled medications in a manner other than how they were prescribed poses a risk to the person's health and safety, and can put others at risk as well.

Prescription medications should be taken only for the purposes for which they were prescribed and at the dose and frequency prescribed. Additionally, Airmen are reminded never to take a medication prescribed to someone else.

"Members who need help discontinuing use of these drugs are encouraged to seek care at a military treatment facility immediately," said Travis.

The policy being addressed is not new to Air Force personnel. In accordance with Air Force guidance and existing law, the knowing use of any prescription or over-the-counter medications in a manner contrary to their intended medical purpose or in excess of the prescribed dosage may have negative health consequences and may also violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Urinalysis also now screens for synthetic cannabinoid, commonly known as spice, often sold in convenience stores unregulated and unchecked.

"The (way we test) itself has not changed significantly; however, the items that are tested have changed to include illicit drug trends that are affecting the military and civilian communities. Over-the-counter drugs that may inhibit a military member's ability to be fit to fight," said Aloys Ingram, the Maxwell Drug Demand Reduction Program manager.

"Spice is a mixture of herbs that is sprayed with a synthetic compound to produce a psychoactive effect similar to marijuana when smoked," she said.

AFI 44-121, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program provides limited protections under certain circumstances for voluntary disclosure of prior drug use or possession to unit commanders, first sergeants, a substance abuse evaluator, or a military medical professional. Once an Airman has been ordered to provide a urine sample as part of the drug testing program, any disclosure is not considered to be voluntary.

"There are no changes to procedures that will directly affect drug testing collection sites and military members who are selected for testing," said Lt. Col. Mark Oordt, chief of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Drug Demand Reduction. "The changes will occur at the drug testing labs where the standard panel of substances each specimen is tested for will be expanded."

The DDR program determines procedures for testing and provides guidelines for drug testing in the Air Force. The program benefits the Air Force mission by providing a drug free Air Force to support global power and global reach for the U.S., by maintaining the health and wellness of a fit and ready fighting force as well as a drug-free Air Force community, said Ingram. In addition to testing, the program also educates children at Maxwell.

"The DDR program promotes education on drugs and their effects to the children of the Maxwell AFB community," Ingram said. This information is presented during various events that include Red Ribbon Week observances, healthy families conference and children's health fair.

Christopher Kratzer, Dispatch staff writer, contributed to this report.