By Ben Sherman, Fort SillNovember 29, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- On Nov. 15, the Department of Defense expanded military drug testing to include selected prescription drugs in the benzodiazepine class, which includes such familiar drugs as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Restoril, plus 31 others.
The Army drug testing laboratory has begun testing urine samples for the presence of these drugs. Eventually all prescription drugs will be tested.
"The labs have started testing samples from Fort Sill, and it is all negative so far," said Sandy Jefferson, military and civilian drug testing coordinator. "We can do special test requests, so if a commander believes there is a question about something that was found in a Soldier's quarters and they want to see if a Soldier is using drugs, we can do the test. It doesn't cost any extra to test for those substances."
Jefferson went on to say in fiscal 2012, Fort Sill had 140 Soldiers test positive for a wide range of substances, including illegal street drugs and prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them. Marijuana had the highest positive tests, with Spice (synthetic THC) coming in second.
The recent expansion of the drug testing panel to include selective benzodiazepines is a further expansion of Army Operations Order 12-211 issued in May. That expansion of the prescription drug testing included hydrocodone (Lortab or Vicodin) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid). These have been added to the drug panel that is applied to every urine specimen collected. The panel includes the above mentioned drugs, plus marijuana (THC), cocaine, amphetamines (methamphetamines, MDMA (ecstasy), MDEA and MDA, heroin and other drugs from a group that includes opiates (morphine and codeine), PCP and oxycodone/oxymorphone (OxyContin).
Soldiers should be aware that all verbal orders connected with drug testing are lawful and are to be followed accordingly. Testing procedures are outlined in Army Regulation 600-85 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Refusal to comply with orders for mandatory drug testing will subject a Soldier to punitive or administrative actions under the UCMJ.
Soldiers who have been injured or suffered battle trauma and are taking prescription drugs under the care of military health care providers do not need to worry about a positive test as long as they have a valid prescription for those medications. All prescriptions are only good for a six-month period and can only be renewed by the health care provider. If a prescription expires, Soldiers should stop taking the medication, even if they have some left and immediately contact their provider to see if it can be refilled. This can cause problems in some cases.
"What I don't like is seeing Soldiers who come back from war, are wounded and get addicted to their meds. They may have gone two days over their six-month refill deadline. If they are tested right after that date they can be in trouble because they aren't legally allowed to have it in their system. I don't like seeing a Soldier's career potentially jeopardized because of a small mistake," Jefferson said.
On the other extreme, Soldiers who are using prescription drugs that have not been prescribed for them by their health care provider potentially face disciplinary action if they test positive on a drug test.
They are encouraged to voluntarily seek medical treatment and rehabilitation for themselves in a military medical treatment program on a self-referral basis prior to the initiation of mandatory drug testing. The Army Substance Abuse Program stands ready to assist Soldiers who need rehabilitation.
Jefferson tries to help the Soldiers who are willing to seek help as much as possible.
"I take it upon myself, if I have rehab Soldiers who are being tested, AWOL Soldiers, probable cause, etc., I don't even ask the commanders. I just send out a special test to the lab and ask that they test for certain substances. It doesn't cost any extra to do that. I do what I can to help them," she said.