Yokosuka seminar focuses on spotting — and heading off — drug, alcohol abuse
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy’s most likely drug user is a male E-3 who has been in the service for less than three years and has not qualified for a specialized warfare pin, Navy substance abuse experts said Monday.
And although the first day of a region-wide, three-day drug and alcohol abuse prevention seminar focused on who was most likely to abuse alcohol or use drugs — and what drugs they choose — an equal emphasis was placed on available prevention and education programs.
“The biggest enablers to substance abuse are that supervisors avoid the issue, that sailors have false perceptions of the consequences and that leadership is not engaged,” said Bill Flannery, head of the Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Branch.
Flannery and a team of experts are at Yokosuka Naval Base this week, bringing the Navy’s drug summit overseas for the first time.
Monday’s program was largely an introduction to Navy-wide and local issues. Later in the week, approximately 200 participants from Navy commands in Japan, Guam, Diego Garcia and South Korea will share “best practices” on detection and prevention.
Flannery shared a litany of statistics — some encouraging, some not. Navy-wide, positive drug tests have dropped from 470 per 1,000 sailors in 1980 — to six per 1,000 tested in 2002. So far this year, that figure has dropped further to 4.6 per 1,000.
And in accordance with the Navy’s professed “zero tolerance” policy on drug use, 96 percent of sailors who test positive are discharged from the service.
The remaining four percent are “command exceptions,” in which a local command has found something wrong with the drug test or accepted proof of prescription drug use that might have created a false positive.
Positive tests for the club drug known as Ecstasy, though, jumped from 34 in 1998 to 328 in 2002, down from more than 400 in 2001.
And while drug- and alcohol-related incidents are on the decline locally, anecdotal evidence shows there is still a problem. “This is not a pleasant subject. But it is one that we do, in fact, need to talk about,” said Rear Adm. Robert C. Chaplin.
“We always have the terrible examples that get everyone’s attention,” he said, referring to an April case in which a Sasebo-based sailor allegedly killed a Japanese woman and seriously injured her daughter in a drunken-driving incident.
“But we need to get out of the react mode and get into the pro-active mode. Leadership has got to be the ones who set the tone and get these programs in place. We have to make sure to get these programs in front of our sailors.”
“Drug use has not — and will not be — tolerated. Alcohol abuse will and must be punished.”
Linda Boswell, a U.S. Pacific Fleet substance abuse specialist, said drug-test positives in the Pacific Fleet dropped from 1.58 percent of those tested in fiscal year 2002 to .53 percent of those tested so far in fiscal 2003.
Sailors in Japan, though, test positive more often for use of methamphetamines than the rest of the fleet. That, said a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, is because those drugs are more readily available and more popularly produced in Southeast Asia than in other parts of the world.
The overall message, Navy officials said, is that reducing substance abuse in the ranks is up to the servicemembers — mainly senior enlisted — that attended Monday’s session.