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Drug Testing Increased for Troops in Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2004 – The Defense Department has increased drug testing for troops stationed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, DoD officials said today.

Mary Beth Long, deputy assistant defense secretary for counternarcotics, said the services will increase the number of urine tests given in Afghanistan and Iraq. The program already has begun, officials said.

The testing is especially needed in Afghanistan, officials said, where the "poppy problem" was even a portion of President Hamid Karzai's inauguration speech. Karzai pledged to work with all to stamp out poppy production.

Poppies produce opium, which laboratories refine further into heroin. DoD and CIA officials estimate that more than half of Afghanistan's gross national product is generated by the illegal drug trade.

"One of the lessons that we have learned from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (in the late 1970s through the late 1980s) is that those troops went back to Russia with a drug problem," Long said. "Our forces are obviously very, very different. We certainly have no expectation that they would suffer the same kind of issues."

But troops are under increased stress, officials said, and the availability of a potent drug like opium or heroin could be a temptation. DoD officials said they do not want a repeat of experiences during the Vietnam War, when some servicemembers came home from that conflict addicted to heroin.

Long said there is very little drug use in the military, and that those "very few" who use illegal drugs abuse marijuana. Drug testing will continue to be an important part of the demand-reduction effort in the department, she added. She said that servicemembers should be "extremely proud" and hold "their shoulders and heads higher" because they are part of the largest drug-free organization in the Free World.

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