Navy: Despite better tests, some drug users slipping through gaps in system
July 17, 2003
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Despite frequent random tests and more sophisticated detection systems, some drug users are slipping through cracks in the system, Navy officials said Tuesday.
Among the holes: The Navy drug tests do not screen for steroids or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Tests for those substances, among others, are only done by special requests, a top official with the service’s testing program said at a regionwide drug summit here.
“The Department of Defense program spells out what drugs we test for, but that list was drawn up 15 years ago,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dan Hoey of the Navy Drug Screening Laboratories. “Problems with steroids, for example, are a later development. Between the cost and bureaucracy, it’s not easy to add things to the DOD testing list.”
Testing a urine sample for steroids, Hoey said, would add $100 to $150 to the cost of a normal drug screening.
“You have to take a look at the threat and the gains that you’re going to make. It could be a case of diminishing returns,” he said.
Of greater concern in Japan, said many who attended the conference, is the prevalence of mushrooms, which were only made illegal in Japan last year but are still readily available on the street.
Hoey said the drug-testing centers were willing to work with particular commands on concerns. “If there is a perceived problem in a local area, we want to make them special cases,” he said.
In his presentation to drug and alcohol counselors from commands throughout the region, Hoey also detailed a variety of methods sailors use to try and “beat the system.”
Some attempt to mask drugs with large quantities of water and substances purchased on the Internet; others strap bladder bags to their thighs containing “clean” urine; some simply leave the cap of a specimen jar loose, hoping its contents will spill out during shipment to a drug-testing lab.
“I always say that you have to treat testing it like a tactical operation,” Hoey said. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game.”
Another problem, officials said, is that not all positive test results are reported to higher commands.
According to Linda Boswell, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s alcohol and drug control officer, 3,100 Pacific Fleet sailors failed a drug test in fiscal 2002. But only 1,126 DAARs — drug and alcohol incident reports that commands are required to file in such cases — were submitted.
Some summit participants were surprised at that figure. Others weren’t, saying their normal workload sometimes pushes such duties to the back of their minds. Overall, the attendees said, the summit offered several new ideas.
“One of the things is the ‘health and comfort inspections’ on things that are brought back from liberty,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Rozalia Jordan, the alcohol and drug program officer for the USS Cowpens.
“Also, it’s good to know about the different programs and resources that we can have while we’re under way.”
Other participants were surprised by the cost of illegal drugs in Japan. According to Stacey Nelson, a Yokosuka-based investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, one dose of LSD would cost between $2 and $10 in the United States. In Japan, that same dose costs between $25 and $200.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t deter people from buying those drugs, since they have some disposable income from living on the ship,” Nelson said. “And it encourages some of these young sailors and Marines to get into business for themselves.”