Taking a proactive approach to combating substance abuse
November 10, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 10, 2011) -- Substance abuse in the military is an ongoing concern especially with Soldiers returning from long and multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many returnees exhibit problems from combat exposure including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injury.
A 2008 Department of Defense Health Behavior Survey revealed general reductions in tobacco and illicit drug use, but reported increases in prescription drug abuse and heavy alcohol use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Alcohol abuse is the most common problem with prescription drug abuse running a close second in the military.
The Army Substance Abuse Program, also known as the Alcohol and Drug Control Office, moved from the basement of Bldg. 606 to Bldg. 656 on Eichelberger Road behind the veterinarians' office.
Wayne Johnson, ASAP manager, came to West Point in August after spending eight years in Korea as an alcohol and drug control specialist.
Johnson feels that a proactive prevention approach is the best way to help stem the tide of substance abuse in the Army.
"Today we are seeing more diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder then we did in Vietnam," Johnson said. "Many Soldiers become addicted to pain medication due to injuries and Soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan often exhibit stress-related problems leading to alcohol abuse. There is a high correlation between mental health, drug abuse and suicide. After experiencing combat, many Soldiers feel invincible. They feel they have been through it and nothing can hurt them. Because of this, some Soldiers are afraid of reaching out to anyone and turn to alcohol."
Johnson thinks today's society is more closed than it was, with people more concerned with interaction on computers than reaching out to others on a personal level.
The mission of ASAP is to reach out and strengthen the overall fitness and effectiveness of the Army's workforce, to conserve manpower and enhance the combat readiness of Soldiers. Included in the overall objectives of ASAP are drug deterrence, prevention, education and rehabilitation.
"One of the ways to deal with the issue of drug abuse prevention is to get the command on board," the retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant said. "At one time, commanders often ignored the issue of substance abuse because the commanders themselves were just out of college or simply chalked it up to being a part of the military experience. Now, commanders have come a long way in trying to retain a Soldier with prevention programs."
Johnson is in the process of training noncommissioned officers (E5 and above) and officers as Unit Prevention Leaders as required through AR600-85 regulation on substance abuse prevention. The primary responsibility of the UPL is to collect and protect the chain of custody for drug and alcohol testing, which is frequent, random and unannounced. Presently, there are seven UPLs taking the 40-hour course.
"Another way to help in prevention is education," Johnson said. "Reaching out to talk to young Soldiers has shown to be very effective."
Counseling on an outpatient basis is another prevention method, which allows Soldiers to receive treatment and continue their regular duties.
ASAP also addresses concerns with cadets who are experiencing substance abuse issues.
"Cadets are basically a reflection of society," Johnson said. "It's no different than any other college where young men and women enjoy partying and drinking alcohol."
Johnson said cadets often exhibit the same issues as Soldiers in the military because of the pressures of academics, sports and military training.
West Point ASAP provides substance abuse screening; family and group counseling on an outpatient basis; referrals for inpatient treatment; medical care; employee assistance; suicide prevention and medication management for civilians, cadets and servicemembers.