New drug-testing program receives mixed feedback
November 9, 2004
If you’ve been in the Air Force only a few years, your chances of getting selected for a random drug test have just increased.
The service’s “Smart Testing” program debuted around the globe Nov. 1. A change in the computer software that randomly selects airmen for urinalysis means it’s more likely that those in the first four enlisted pay grades and first two officer ranks will get tested.
Master Sgt. Tim Snyder, superintendent of mental health for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said statistics show that those between the ages of 18 and 25 are four times more likely to test positive. During the last year, USAFE bases administered more than 24,200 tests.
Only 124, or less than 1 percent, turned up positive results.
“The vast majority of people don’t have a problem with drugs, so (the change) doesn’t matter to them,” said Lt. Col. Dave Arreola, USAFE’s chief consultant for mental health.
That opinion seemed to be echoed by those in the target population in small surveys both in the Pacific theater and at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
None of those questioned Monday at Aviano had heard of the change. But none of them expressed concerns with it.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Airman 1st Class Steve Ciotti. “You’re in the military and you know what to expect. They should be able to test you every day and you should pass.”
“Go for it,” said Airman 1st Class Stephanie Otey. “I’m not going to have any problems.”
Asked if increasing the chances of testing her age group was unfair, she shrugged.
“I guess you’ve got to target it to the people who are having problems,” she said. “Make them take it seriously.”
Senior Airman Aaron Baugh said it makes sense to target the people who are more likely to be using illegal drugs.
“Generally, a 45-year-old colonel probably doesn’t know where to get drugs,” he said. “While a 19-year-old …”
Baugh said he’s been tested twice at Aviano in the last six months after not getting tested in his first year on base.
Noranne Kocher, who runs the drug-testing program at Aviano, said — despite rumors to the contrary — the testing is totally random.
She’s got a computer program that has the names of all the active-duty airmen in the wing. About eight times a month, the computer is asked to generate a list.
“It will go through and spit out a bunch of names,” she said, adding that in a test earlier this month, 39 of the 52 airmen selected fell in the targeted age group.
Those airmen on the list are told they’ve got two hours to report and submit a urine sample. Because of the random nature of the list, some airmen may get selected a dozen times a year while others may not get selected at all.
Kocher said common rumors that airmen just coming off leave or long weekends are targeted are just not true.
“We have no clue what people are doing in their private lives as far as the random tests go,” she said.
That’s not necessarily true of the other means the service has to test, though.
Commanders can ask that individual airmen be tested for probable cause.
And security police may conduct sweeps through living quarters on base or hold checkpoints at gates.
Snyder said the overall goal is to stop illegal drug use in the service: “The whole point is a fit and ready force.”