By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2012 – The Defense Department’s drug-testing program is expanding to add screening for two additional prescription medications to the range of legal and illegal drugs it currently detects.
Joe Angello, the department’s director of operational readiness and safety, told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters the two drugs added to the screening program — hydrocodone and benzodiazepines — are nationally among the most abused prescription drugs now on the market. The program already tests for codeine and morphine, he noted. As patterns of drug misuse change, the drug testing program responds by adding more testing procedures, he noted.
Hydrocodone is a component of a number of prescription painkillers, including Vicodin, while benzodiazepines are a class of antidepressant medication present in a range of drugs that includes Xanax and Valium. Angello said DOD announced the new screenings 90 days before they would take effect, which is unprecedented in the more than 40 years since military drug testing began. The memorandum went out yesterday.
“The memorandum is giving you a 90-day warning order,” Angello said. A service member addicted to prescription drugs, he added, should seek medical help. “Don’t get caught in a drug test,” Angello urged. “There [are] no penalties, there’s no stigma, attached to [self-referral for medical] help here.”
Service members with prescriptions for the two drugs will not be subject to disciplinary action for using them within the dosage and time prescribed, Angello said. To anyone who has medication remaining from an expired prescription, he added, “Don’t use those.” Such drugs should be turned in for disposal, but should not be flushed, he noted, as they can contaminate the water supply. “If nothing else, you can always turn them in through your local military police,” Angello said.
Drug abuse among service members is significantly lower than in the civilian population, he said, but has a potentially much greater effect in the military. “You’re not at your peak mental acuity when you’re using drugs,” he said. “The military has some of the finest men and women this nation has to offer; we cannot have people in the business of arms with drug impairments.”