New Drug Policy Expands Testing to Catch More Users
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2002 The Defense Department is continuing its anti-drug efforts with a new policy that involves more frequent random testing of active duty military, reservists and civilian employees.
Signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz on July 31, the new policy reflects the reality that the nation is at war, Andre Hollis, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics, said Aug. 13.
"It's even more critical during war that our service members are mentally alert and physically fit. Drug use is inconsistent with that," he emphasized. "I'm sure that's the message you'll hear from the NCOs all the way up to the secretary of defense."
Hollis said he was tasked to do a bottom-up review of DoD's drug policy after assuming his job in August last year. The new policy is a result of that review, he noted. The primary purpose of the policy is to reduce demand for and the use of illegal drugs within DoD.
"We're going to increase our testing across all the services -- active, National Guard and Reserve," he said. "That's very important, because all of our men and women in uniform and civilian members of DoD are involved in this war effort. It's critical that we all give 100 percent and that we're drug-free and able to help the secretary and the president in this war on terror."
Hollis said the new policy also calls for minimum, across- the-board consequences for anyone in DoD -- military or civilian -- caught using drugs. He said that he noticed during his review that rules varied across the services regarding drug use.
For example, he explained, in the past service members of different branches found using drugs under the same circumstances might have received different punishments. DoD is working closely with the services to come up with minimum uniformity to improve not only the sense of fairness, but also the clarity of the message, he said.
Hollis noted that message is simple: Drug use is incompatible with military service or civilian employment at DoD.
"Drug use is not going to be tolerated. There are going to be consequences," he emphasized. "We will not tolerate it." Abusers, he said, could be subject to dishonorable discharges, dismissals, prison time, fines and criminal records.
Responding to some media reports that allege a great increase in illegal drug use within the military, Hollis asserted, "Not so."
Recent DoD statistics bear out his contention there is no drug epidemic in the ranks. There is, however, a modest increase in the overall percentage of active duty troops testing positive for so-called club drugs during the past three years, he noted.
For example, in fiscal 1999, 1.11 percent of the 1.1 million active duty service members tested were positive for illegal drugs. The positive rate for those tested in fiscal 2000 was 1.32 percent, and in fiscal 2001, 1.45 percent.
Hollis explained the increase by noting that more random testing by the services in recent years has been catching more drug users. Under the new policy, he asserted, random drug testing will become even more frequent.
Second, the services have significantly increased their ability to test for club drugs increasingly favored by younger people, he said. Upgraded laboratory technology also enables testers to detect a subject's drug use further back in time than was previously possible, he added.
In fact, more service members are indeed being busted these days for having the club drug ecstasy in their systems. DoD statistics show 495 ecstasy abusers among the 12,264 active duty service members found abusing illegal drugs in fiscal 1999. With more stringent drug screening standards in place, Ecstasy users totaled 1,744 out of the 16,759 abusers caught in fiscal 2001.
Those numbers hardly represent an ecstasy epidemic, Hollis pointed out. DoD statistics show the fiscal 1999 and 2001 active duty populations to be steady at roughly 1.3 million. The test pools were 1.105 million active duty members sampled in fiscal 1999 and 1.157 million in fiscal 2001.
Hollis noted that marijuana continues to be active service members' illegal drug of choice -- used by 70% of the 16,759 drug abusers caught in fiscal 2001, down a few percentage points from 2000. The other drugs in the top three most abused by service members are cocaine and methamphetamine (speed). Ecstasy is a close fourth.
Drug abuse degrades performance, Hollis continued, and it may also cause well-documented adverse health effects. DoD medical experts point to recent studies that show users can suffer permanent brain damage from even one small dose of ecstasy.
Hollis said the new DoD policy will simultaneously encourage and educate service members to avoid drug use. DoD's zero tolerance stance on drug use will also be made clear to potential recruits, he added.
"We don't want people who are going to take drugs," Hollis said. "We want the 'best and brightest.' If you're going to take drugs, go somewhere else."
Service members in particular, he pointed out, should recognize that today's world is a dangerous place. "You may be called upon to defend the country. You can't do that if you're 'high,'" he said.
"We want to make sure our policies are clear and that the consequences for breaking those policies are also clear," Hollis concluded.