Army changes methods of testing for drug use
July 23, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — For years, the 2nd Infantry Division’s mandatory drug-testing program has shown use rates of less than 1 percent.
Then, last year, the Army changed how it tests for drug use and safeguards the results.
After about 12 months of these new “smart” testing procedures, use rates still are registering at less than 1 percent, said Daniel Silvia, alcohol and drug control officer for Area I.
The difference, he said: Now commanders can be more certain the percentage accurately reflects drug-use levels in their units.
Smart testing began about two years ago after an Army inspection found the drug-testing program’s success was measured on whether units made their testing quota and met standards for handling urine samples, Silvia said.
At a minimum, 8th Army requires 10 percent of a unit’s soldiers be tested each month, Silvia said. There also are basic chain-of-custody requirements to ensure the samples’ validity.
A computer program randomly picks Social Security numbers of soldiers pegged for a urine test, said Jim Phillips, the Korea Regional Office representative for the Army’s alcohol and drug program.
Generals and other high-ranking officers are just as likely to be picked as enlisted members.
“They know it’s random,” he said. “They know their name can come up at any time. The premise of smart testing is to be unpredictable. If you test every Friday, soldiers are going to find out.”
Under smart testing, samples are taken on different days of the week, including the first duty day after a weekend or period of extended leave, when soldiers are more likely to use drugs, Silvia said.
Procedures also have been tweaked to better ensure samples aren’t tampered with, the officers said.
As a result, Silvia said Army commanders in South Korea get more accurate pictures of drug use in their units.
Silvia attributes the lower drug-use rate among soldiers in South Korea “to the fact that the availability of illicit drugs over here, thanks in large part to the Korean government … is fairly low. If you are a person who goes out to the clubs and you are not looking for drugs, you are not going to get propositioned here.”
Eighteen soldiers received nonjudicial punishment related to drug offenses from July 2002 through June, said Maj. Tamara K. Parker, division public affairs officer. No soldiers were court-martialed, though those up for nonjudicial punishment have the option of electing to face trial.
A senior enlisted soldier or officer who tests positive for drugs likely will be discharged from the Army, Phillips said.
Some lower-rank enlisted soldiers — if they show an interest in counseling and in wanting to stay in the Army — might be allowed to remain, he said.
Phillips does command inspections to ensure units are following drug-testing rules, he said, noting units are tested about once a year.
Most pass the test
To date, Army drug-testing figures portray a relatively drug-free force.
For fiscal year 2002, including three months of smart testing, 33 tests out of 57,747 throughout the Army in South Korea were confirmed positive, a rate of .057 percent.
So far in the nine months of fiscal 2003, 25 of 48,570 tests were positive, a rate of .051 percent.
Of about 25,000 Area I samples taken so far in fiscal 2003, 18 have tested positive for drug use, a rate of about .072 percent, said Daniel Silvia, alcohol and drug control officer for Area I.
Overall, 1.21 percent of soldiers test positive for drug use, said Jim Phillips, Korea Regional Office representative for the Army’s alcohol and drug program.
— Stars and Stripes