AF, Marine programs aim to battle substance abuse
September 23, 2008
Most of the airmen who end up in Capt. Aron Potter’s office are there because they got into trouble.
A bar fight or some other alcohol-related incident landed them in counseling at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program at Kadena Air Base.
But it’s the binge drinkers and the heavy drinkers he worries about.
"It’s the ones who’ve been drinking, showing up to work, but haven’t been caught yet," said Potter, a clinical psychologist and ADAPT program manager with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron.
Potter said his office receives about 20 referrals a month from unit commanders, but he wants to see self-referrals increase.
"If left untreated, the problem just gets worse, and over time it could affect your career," Potter said.
Alcohol abuse, coupled with an increased popularity — particularly among teens — in over-the-counter cold medicines that produce cheap highs, have prompted military leaders to increase efforts to fight substance abuse.
In May, over-the-counter medications containing DXM, or dextromethorphan, were removed from several Marine base shop outlets after incidents involving Kubasaki High School students.
Access to DXM-based cough medications also has been restricted at Kadena Air Base.
John Velker, director of the Marine Corps Community Services Substance Abuse Counseling Center, said young people need to realize the damaging effects of recreational DXM use, especially if combined with alcohol.
"They’re missing the point about how terribly destructive these drugs are to their body," Velker said.
Marine Corps Base Camp Butler recently established Keep All Teens and Children Healthy, a task force that has held teen meetings at Camps Kinser and Foster to discuss DXM use and drug prevention, Velker said.
Drug education and prevention also has been incorporated into parent life-skills classes to help keep parents informed on the dangers, Velker said.
At Kadena Air Base, counselors, teen center staff and substance abuse experts are developing prevention education plans to target young airmen and youth ages 10 to 17, Potter said.
Teens with dependency issues can seek treatment through the Adolescent Substance Abuse Counseling Service Program, he said.
Alcohol abuse also continues to be a problem, Marine and Air Force officials said.
Through prevention workshops, education classes, campaigns and briefings, Air Force and Marine substance abuse counselors are reaching out to servicemembers afraid or reluctant to get help.
In a 12-month period, ending June 30 of this year, the MCCS Substance Abuse Counseling Center held 212 educational classes and reached 22,000 Marines, Velker said.
Aiming messages of prevention and treatment at young servicemembers is critical, since they’re more likely to engage in risky behavior, Velker said.
First-time independence and being overseas thousands of miles away from home can push servicemembers toward unsavory actions and an overindulgence in alcohol, he said.
"The military is constantly recruiting people who are risk-takers," Velker said.
Vernon Harris, clinical program manager for the MCCS Substance Abuse Counseling Center, said the severity of cases has increased in recent years.
Servicemembers are waiting longer to enter treatment and are sometimes dealing with other mental-health, drug-related or dependency issues, he said.
Servicemembers should be aware of the consequences they face when they depend on alcohol and not be afraid to reach out for help, said Mike Thompson, a counselor with the MCCS Substance Abuse Counseling Center.
"We’re the good guys, and we really care about them," he said. "We’re trying to help them save their career, help them return and be active."