WASHINGTON â€”Â The Air Force and other military services will expand their drug testing to include testing for commonly abused prescription drugs beginning May 1.
On Jan. 31, the secretary of defense gave a 90-day advance notice of the drug testing expansion which aims to counter the nationâ€™s growing epidemic and encourage those abusing prescription medications to seek treatment before official testing begins.
â€œAbuse of prescription drugs is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States, and unfortunately, this trend is reflected in the military services,â€ said Maj. Gen. Thomas Travis, deputy Air Force surgeon general. â€œWhile pain medications are highly effective in alleviating suffering from injuries, they are dangerous and potentially addictive when used outside medical supervision.â€
Taking controlled medications in a manner other than how they were prescribed poses a risk to the personâ€™s health and safety and can put others at risk as well.
Prescription medications should be taken only for the purposes for which they were prescribed and at the dose and frequency prescribed. Additionally, Airmen are reminded never to take a medication prescribed to someone else.
â€œMembers who need help discontinuing use of these drugs are encouraged to seek care at a military treatment facility immediately,â€ Travis said.
The policy being addressed is not new to Air Force personnel. In accordance with Air Force guidance and existing law, the knowing use of any prescription or over-the-counter medications in a manner contrary to their intended medical purpose or in excess of the prescribed dosage may have negative health consequences and may also violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
AFI 44-121, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program provides limited protection under certain circumstances for voluntary disclosure of prior drug use or possession to unit commanders, first sergeants, a substance abuse evaluator or a military medical professional. Once an Airman has been ordered to provide a urine sample as part of the drug testing program, any disclosure is not considered to be voluntary.
â€œThere are no changes to procedures that will directly affect drug testing collection sites and military members who are selected for testing,â€ said Lt. Col. Mark Oordt, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Drug Demand Reduction chief. â€œThe changes will occur at the drug testing labs where the standard panel of substances each specimen is tested for will be expanded.â€
The scope of the problem
The Centers for Disease Control report 52 million Americans age 12 and older had used prescription meds nonmedically in 2009, with 7,000,000 Americans having done so routinely.
Prescription medications appear to be replacing marijuana as the top â€œgateway drug.â€ Six of the top 10 abused substances among high school seniors are prescription drugs; 20 percent of high school students have taken prescription medications without a prescription.
Military data also suggests increases in prescription drug misuse. The Defense Department health behaviors survey shows self reported misuse of pain meds for nonmedical purposes by service members (all services) increased from 2 percent in 2002 to 7 percent in 2005 to 17 percent in 2008.
How to dispose of prescription drugs
â€œPatients are encouraged to dispose of prescribed medications once they are no longer needed for their prescribed purpose,â€ Oordt said. â€œThe Drug Enforcement Administration prohibits pharmacies from taking back controlled substances. However, the services collaborate with law enforcement agencies in the DEA drug take-back days which occur several times each year in most communities.â€
For more information on drug take back days visit http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/Â
The Food and Drug Administration also offers guidance on disposal of prescription drugs before consumers throw them in the garbage.
Take the medication out of the original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through trash.
Put medications in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.