Prescription drugs pose danger
The Army will soon begin expanded testing of Soldiers for unauthorized prescription drugs, in addition to currently tested illegal substances.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 27, 2012) -- The Army will soon begin expanded testing of Soldiers for unauthorized prescription drugs, in addition to currently tested illegal substances.

"We're starting with hydrocodone and hydromorphone as the first expansion" of testing said Lt. Col. Shaun Bailey, chief of the drug testing branch at the Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs. He explained that these two pain-killers are widely used, as they are found in Vicodin and other brand-named drugs.

"We will continue to expand and increase our prescription drug-testing capabilities in the months to come," Bailey said. "We're not limiting ourselves in this initial announcement."

The expanded testing of urinalysis samples will begin around May 1 and ramp up as more labs come online, Bailey said. The program will be fully implemented Army-wide by Oct. 1 as part of the Army's crackdown on prescription drug abuse.

"We point toward the recent numbers that came out in the Army Gold Book -- the Army 2020 Generating Health and Discipline in the Force, Report 2012 -- about the deaths in the Army related to prescription drugs as a warning and a message to the force about the seriousness," Bailey said.

Even when used correctly, he said, prescription drugs pose a hazard if mixed with alcohol.

"We've sort of become desensitized as a culture to the danger because it's so common. In my household, I became aware of the danger of prescription drugs. I have two small children at home. I went to our medicine cabinet and cleaned out all the prescription drugs because I didn't want my sons getting their paws on that stuff," he said. "I would encourage people to take that risk seriously and to take the time to know what's in your medicine cabinet."

Bailey said there are stiff penalties for taking unauthorized medications.

"If you have a valid prescription for the medication, you're good to go. We want to treat our Soldiers, so we're only trying to pass the message that now is the time to take account of what you're doing for your health and well-being.

"If you take the Vicodin without a prescription -- that is criminal behavior we want to educate people about. So go to the doctor, go to the emergency room, go wherever and get a valid prescription and do what they tell you to do," he said.

HISTORY OF DRUG TESTING IN THE ARMY

The last time we looked hard at changing the significant shift in drug testing, he said, was when Ecstasy -- otherwise known as a party drug -- was big and was not widely perceived as dangerous.

"We started testing for it and basically stomped it out of the Army. (That's) not a claim for victory, yet, but our Ecstasy rates are very low."

About four years ago, Baily said the Army began testing for Oxycodone/Oxymorphone, "which the Army didn't introduce to the world, but it kind of came with the society. That was our first step in prescription drug testing.

"We're expanding that and the reason we were first speaking about hydrocodone is that it's the most widely prescribed so the fundamentals of supply and demand are there."

ARMY GOLD BOOK REPORT

Between October 2006 and October 2011, there were 662 accidental and undetermined deaths investigated by the Criminal Investigation Command which were caused by a variety of factors including traffic, alcohol and drugs, weapons or multiple factors.

The Army Gold Book reports at least half of these deaths were related to high‐risk behavior -- with 312 drug toxicity deaths the result of high‐risk behavior.

Of the 312 deaths, 68 percent (214) involved prescription medication (oxys most prevalent). Of these 214, 48 percent (103) were not prescribed to the victim at the time of death. Drug toxicity deaths, moreover, have trended upward during this period from 22 in fiscal year 2006 to 56 in fiscal year 2010.

There were 32 prescription-related deaths determined at time of the report in fiscal year 2011 with 46 deaths still under investigation.

Based on the ratio of prescription to other drug toxicity deaths (adjudicated in fiscal year 2011), the report stated it is likely that there will be a total of about 60 prescription‐related deaths in fiscal year 2011, continuing the trend upward.

Whether or not contemporary treatments are characterized by an over‐reliance on medication, there are second‐order effects associated with the increasing ubiquity of prescription medication.

These effects include the increased availability of prescription medication for recreational use, creative compliance among patients issued medication and a real potential for accidental overdose.

For example, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription opioid analgesics are the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the U.S., with the highest rate of abuse occurring among those between ages 18‐25.

Perhaps the most harrowing outcome of the wide availability of prescription medication is the potential for drug overdose leading to long‐term health issues and, in extreme cases, death.

In fact, research indicates that fatal poisonings from prescription pain relievers alone more than tripled since 1999.

Although most of these causes of death are trending sideways or even downward, drug-induced deaths -- including deaths resulting from prescription medication -- have marched steadily upward, surpassing deaths from firearms and suicides in FY2004 and vehicle accidents in FY2009.

DOD DRUG-TESTING INSTRUCTION

"In accordance with the DOD instruction -- our normal military drug-testing program -- commanders have a lot of flexibility to test to at least 100 percent of their end strength every year, randomly. As a body, the Army tests about 200 percent a year active-duty, including mobilized and National Guardsmen," Bailey said.

More than 1.4 million urinary samples were tested last year.

"So every month at every major installation, commanders test four percent a week or 12 percent a month, randomly, and then if commanders have concerns about a particular kind of mission, they can do a unit sweep in which every Soldier will be tested. It's part of everyday life in maneuver units in the operational Army," he said.

Bailey commends the technological precision and excellence of the drug-testing system. He said it's forensically solid and meets a very high standard of proof, and that speaks well of the process and the Soldiers and commanders that do the good work every day to ensure it remains that way.

For more information on controlled prescriptions,Soldiers can visit their unit substance abuse program office or go to their installation pharmacy.

If Army Substance Abuse Program personnel, commanders, 1st sergeants and unit prevention leaders have questions, email biochem@conus.army.mil.

Also, visit ASAP at http://acsap.army.mil/sso/pages/index.jsp.

View the Army Gold Book at http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/downloads/232541.pdf

Page last updated Mon February 27th, 2012 at 00:00