Air Force drug testing expanded

By Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal: 27th SOW Public Affairs

The Air Force announced that they, along with the other military branches, will expand drug testing to include screening for commonly-abused prescription medications. Testing will begin in May at Cannon Air Force Base.

The Secretary of Defense gave 90 days advance notice of the new drug testing procedures on Jan. 31. The new testing will target countering the growing epidemic of prescription medication abuse and encourage those already misusing them to seek treatment before official testing begins.

“The biggest problem we have at Cannon in regard to prescription drug abuse is people using the medication beyond expiration and individuals using someone else’s medications,” said Mary Zuercher, Drug Demand Reduction Program. “It isn’t just the young airmen we see these trends with either, it is visible at every level.”

Intentionally using medications in any way contrary to the prescribed instructions poses risks to individual health, safety and the wellbeing of others.

Prescribed medications may only be taken for the purpose which they are prescribed and at the recommended frequency and dosage. Air Commandos must never take medications prescribed to anyone else. It is considered a felony to do so, and the consequences are severe.

It is also illegal to take expired medications, even if prescribed by a physician. Drugs lose their potency, people’s bodies can change over time and mixing expired medications with newer ones can be lethal.

“Simply put, any misuse of medications is extremely dangerous,” said Ronnie Warmuth, DDRP. “If you and your spouse happen to have similar medical conditions and one of you has been prescribed something to treat it, it is illegal for the other to use those medications.”

Air Force Instruction 44-121, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, provides limited protections under certain circumstances for the voluntary disclosure of prior drug use or possession to commanders, first sergeants, substance abuse evaluators, or any military medical professional. However, after an airman has been ordered to provide a urine sample, that window closes and the disclosure is no longer voluntary.

“We’ve seen individuals come in for testing, then immediately go down to Mental Health and self-identify,” said Warmuth. “That’s not how it works. You need to identify before screening. The professionals in Mental Health will do all they can to assist you, but you have to seek out help before your summons.”

The new testing regulations are not entirely foreign to Air Force personnel. Misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications in any manner contrary to intended purpose or in excess of recommended dosage may violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“A drug conviction, for either legally-prescribed medications or illegal narcotics, will stay on your record forever,” said Zuercher. “It is a federal offense that should not be taken lightly.”