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Air Force Strives to Raise Drug Abuse Awareness
08/07/01 — WASHINGTON (AFPN) — The Air Force has announced nine initiatives designed to promote awareness of drug abuse and educate people on the problem.

The initiatives are the result of the Air Force Inspector General's concerns about what appeared to be rising drug abuse trends in the Air Force — especially in the area of new "club drugs."

The inspector general tasked the IG special investigations directorate to pool together various experts and determine if there was, in fact, an increase in the drug abuse trend, and if so, why. The Air Force Drug Abuse Reduction Team was created in October 2000 to address those questions.

The team, composed of air staff-level experts from legal, medical, security forces, personnel, public affairs, recruiting, Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Reserve and National Guard components, began meeting in November, said Maj. Janice Pegram, AF DART team chief.

The team's goal was to attack the problem from a variety of angles, focusing on prevention and deterrence, she said.

With respect to IG concerns about increased drug use, AF DART has determined the number of Air Force members identified as abusing drugs is growing. The higher number can be attributed to higher use and better detection through testing and investigations, Pegram said.

The team came up with the following recommendations and initiatives the service can implement to help reverse the drug abuse trend:

picture of night club
The Air Force has announced nine initiatives designed to promote awareness of drug abuse and educate people on the problem. The initiatives are the result of the Air Force Inspector General's concerns about what appeared to be rising drug abuse trends in the Air Force -- especially in the area of new "club drugs." (Photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Locke)

— Recommend the Defense Department test recruits at military entrance processing stations for the same drugs the Air Force tests for. Currently, DOD only tests for marijuana and cocaine. The Air Force tests for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, PCP, LSD, opiates and barbiturates. Additionally, they test for ecstasy when the methamphetamine test is positive;

— Emphasize the periodic use of Air Force-wide weekend and holiday urinalysis testing, for detection and deterrence of club drugs;

— Expand instruction at squadron, group and wing commander courses and add officer professional military education classes. Emphasis will be put on commanders' options and the impact of drug abuse on readiness and mission;

— Field a standardized substance abuse prevention awareness program at all Air Force bases;

— Design commander's call topics that discuss the effects substance abuse has on health, and the potential consequences of using drugs in the military;

— Highlight zero tolerance, increased drug testing, and integrity issues with internal media to promote awareness within the Air Force community;

— Continue with Air Force chief of staff messages that focus on drug abuse and readiness, the importance of drug testing, drug prevention activities and commander involvement and responsibility;

— Create awareness videos on topics such as the chief of staff's expectations on drug abuse and the adverse effects of drug use on the body; and

— Establish the judge advocate general as the Air Force focal point to integrate drug abuse data from various Air Force agencies and determine drug trends.

Based on the statistics, Pegram said the population most at risk for drug abuse is people in the ranks of E-1 through E-4.

In a memo to commanders, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, urged commanders to take innovative approaches to the drug problem. He said the rising negative trends in drug abuse by airmen are troublesome. "We need to be fair, firm and proactive as we enforce our standards," he said.

Ryan also told commanders to ensure they leveraged initiatives like the Limited Privilege Suicide Prevention Program or the Alcohol Drug Abuse and Treatment Program.

"We can save lives and sometimes careers with programs like these," he said. "Use them. That's why they are there."

This program is a positive thing, Pegram said.

"We're not looking at drug abuse from a punitive standpoint, but, instead are looking at ways to help our troops stay away from drugs in the first place," she said. "We believe we can do that with good education programs on the potentially devastating physiological and mental effects of drug abuse, a clear understanding of the reasons for zero tolerance, and widespread awareness of the stiff punishments and consequences if you're caught using drugs."

The team hopes to have all initiatives implemented by summer 2002, Pegram said.red ribbon icon

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