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Air Force Sends Message to Drug Abusers
By Tech. Sgt. R.R. Becerril
Air Force Print News

02/08/01 - WASHINGTON — Likened to constantly moving targets, illegal drugs go from base to base, area to area. But the Air Force has a message for those using or inclined to abuse drugs: "You can run, but you can't hide."

"Our ultimate goal is not to get just the user, but the individual who is supplying the drugs," said Stephen Minger, an Air Force Office of Special Investigations supervisory special agent at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

"I think commanders are becoming increasingly sensitive to the fact that drug abuse is a moving target," said Lt. Col. Pete Durand, the Air Force's Drug Demand Reduction program manager. "What's true today in terms of the substances of abuse may not be true tomorrow."

"In the '80s, everyone was talking about crack, during the late '70s, early '80s, it was cocaine; today it is Ecstasy; tomorrow — who knows," Minger said. "Rest assured, there is something out there that will take the place of Ecstasy. Our responsibility is to identify what those drugs are and make the Air Force aware this is beginning to emerge."

Recent drug abuse cases at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., and Langley AFB, Va., illustrate the use of Ecstasy in the Air Force; however, Minger points out the overall number of people involved in drug abuse investigations still equate to less than 1 percent of the total Air Force.

handful of ecstasy pills
Likened to constantly moving targets, illegal drugs go from base to base, area to area. But the Air Force has a message for those using or inclined to abuse drugs: "You can run, but you can't hide."
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs)

The number of AFOSI's drug abuse investigations totaled 1,100 in 2000, an increase from 1999's total of 710, minger said.

"About 90 percent of these cases were Air Force-affiliated, said Minger, whose investigative agency is the only one in the Air Force with the authority to pursue civilian drug suppliers.

Even though the number of Ecstasy-related investigations rose to 423 in 2000, compared to only 66 in 1999, the No. 1 drug among abusers remains cannabis, or marijuana, Minger said.

A similar increase can be seen in the service's drug urinalysis testing program. The increase in positive results for Ecstasy is nearly tenfold throughout the past three years, Durand said.

But the number is still very small, he said.

"Of the 1,000 drug urinalysis test-positives we had in 2000, Ecstasy was identified in 61 tests," Durand said.

Minger and Durand attribute the rise in both drug abuse investigations and positive drug urinalysis tests in some degree to the increased emphasis placed on detection, prevention and education.

"It's hard to say at this point whether the increase is due to better detection or that there are more drug abusers," Minger said.

A three-pronged strategy forms the foundation in the AFOSI's battle against drug abuse, Minger said.

"The first element is supply interdiction. That is done through very aggressive law enforcement efforts, running informants and undercover operations, to try to eliminate the availability of drugs that GIs consume," he said.

The second and third elements comprise supply reduction and information cross-feed.

"We accomplish this through educational efforts, making people aware of the drugs that are on the market and their effects," Minger said.

"We have access to a lot of information, both overtly and covertly, in our contacts with people who are using drugs, and through our informants and undercover agents. We feed that information to the drug urinalysis program managers and educate commanders about the drug situation.

Minger and Durand agree as long as there are drugs in the civilian community and the Air Force is drawing recruits from the civilian community, there will be the issue of drugs in the military.

"We need to deal with it cogently and effectively," Minger said. "Whether it means running an investigation on an airman using drugs and his dealer, or identifying an individual through urinalysis testing or alternate detection methods."

Besides investigations and drug urinalysis testing, other methods include testing new recruits for drug use and developing better urinalysis test agents to close the detection window on drugs such as Ecstasy, which quickly pass through the body.

Emphasis is also being placed on expanding drug testing, to include off-duty and weekend testing, Durand said.

"Commanders have always had that option to test after duty hours and on the weekends," Durand said. "We have worked hard to remind commanders out in the field that they have the authority and the responsibility to constantly monitor the drug threat and to modify drug testing procedures based on changes in the drug threat environment."

Under normal circumstances, the unit (trusted agent) would not contact individuals for testing while on leave, he said. Those on leave would be notified upon their return to duty that they have the standard two hours to report for urinalysis testing.

However, if the trusted agent was unaware of their leave status and was able to contact them for testing, they would be required to report within two hours -- regardless of their leave status, he said. He added if the individual cannot be contacted, he or she would be notified when they returned to duty and would have the same two-hour window to report for testing.

"I think our drug testing program is one of the major success stories," Durand said. "When you look at where we were in the 1980s to where we are today, there is absolutely no comparison. The testing rate is targeted at 75 percent, but last year, we actually achieved an 80-percent drug test rate, so clearly, many of our commanders are exercising their option to increase testing.

"Commanders today have much greater certainty that the people they are getting to perform critical missions are fit and ready," he added. "And, in spite of the increased difficulty in recent years to meet recruiting goals, our senior leadership has held fast and firm to our high standards and have not relaxed them."

Minger said, "The reality is that as long as drugs exist in America we'll have to stay vigilant in combating their presence in the military. The Air Force's responsibility is to try to identify where drug abuse is occurring, and eliminate it and take action where necessary, in terms of military justice, education, prevention and deterrence."red ribbon icon

- Air Force Office of Special Investigations

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