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DoD Leads by Example During Red Ribbon Week

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 1999 – One of the most important roles service members play in the fight against drugs is as leaders in their communities, Ana Maria Salazar said.

This is the message Salazar, deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug enforcement policy and support, hopes to send to service members during DoDs ninth annual Red Ribbon Week observance Oct. 18-22.

The theme for this years observance is Leading by Example.

Service members should try to educate and teach the community the harm that drugs can do and focus on the alternative, which is a clean and drug-free lifestyle, Salazar said.

This can be done in any number of ways, she said. National Guard anti-drug programs, for example, have reached more than 13.5 million individuals nationwide. Most of these programs work by mentoring the youth of a community and providing alternatives to abusing drugs.

Salazar said Red Ribbon Week gives service members an excellent excuse to highlight drug abuse-prevention programs. It gives you a reason to talk to your family about drugs, to talk to your children about how damaging drugs can be, and to encourage those around you to follow a drug-free lifestyle, she said.

The Virginia Federation of Parents and the Illinois Drug Education Alliance established Red Ribbon Week in 1985. The red ribbon symbolizes the commitment to reduce the demand for illicit drugs.

Drug use within the military has been a readiness issue for decades, Salazar said. She explained that at the height of the Vietnam Conflict there was quite a bit of concern over increasing drug use among the troops.

Then, in May 1981, an accident aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier killed 14 and injured 48 sailors, destroyed seven planes and damaged 11 others. The ensuing investigation revealed drug use might have compounded the problem. Six of those killed had traces of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their bodies.

DoD had tested service members before, but the Nimitz accident put new impetus into the effort. Today DoD deters drug use among its military members through an energetic testing program. In 1999, DoD has tested about 2.7 million urine samples for drugs, at a cost of $26 million.

Not only does this catch those actually using drugs, Salazar said the high testing rate has a deterrent effect as well. Less than 1 percent of service members tested come up positive.

Our testing rates are high enough that we believe an individual will think twice before using drugs because of the fact that they can get called in for drug testing, she said.

DoD is also working to increase the amount of testing done before individuals actually enter military service.

Weve increased the amount of testing at the [Military Entrance Processing Station] stage and at the recruit- training stage, Salazar said. The services dont need to spend money recruiting and training those individuals that use drugs.

Through these measures, as well as through education and counseling programs, DoD has been able to reduce the consumption of drugs within the armed forces by about 90 percent since 1980, Salazar said.

Although roughly 79 percent of positive drug tests contain THC, Salazar said the next step is to test for a wider range of drugs.

What we have to do now is make sure were testing for all the drugs being used. We have to anticipate upcoming trends, she said. For example, there have been concerns about the increased use of heroin and methamphetamines. We have to make sure our drug-testing capabilities actually reflect what we need to be looking for.

Salazar urged those using drugs or considering it to think before they act. Think about the effect on your family, on your career, on the safety of your unit, and on the fact that youre representing the United States, she said. The effect that drugs have on security, your unit and your work is such that we have to take a zero-tolerance position.

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