Attrition: Stalking Stoned Sailors


August 22, 2009: The U.S. Navy is changing its policy on random drug testing. Instead of one, unannounced, urine test for everyone in a unit each year, there will now be four random tests a month for each unit, with 15 percent of the members of the unit being tested each month. This approach is expected to discourage more sailors from being tempted to use drugs. Sailors caught using drugs are usually discharged. It costs, on average, $150,000 to replace each of these sailors. While the percentage of sailors testing positive has gone from .67 percent in 2001 to .18 percent, the navy believes that some of the decline has come from sailors using special chemical kits that are often successful in helping a sailor pass a urine test, when they should have failed. And then there are the new drugs, that are as intoxicating as the old ones, but have not become illegal yet. The army (with 1.75 percent positive) and marines (1.4 percent) have more drug use, while the air force is a bit less than the navy.

For several years now, the U.S. Department of Defense has been trying to do something about troops using recreational drugs that are not yet illegal. There is also a crackdown on the use of drugs that mask use of illegal drugs. Four years ago, the services began issuing orders banning the use of any stuff that gets you high, whether it's legal or not. Not everyone paid attention. The navy does not want sailors working on the ship while under the influence of any legal, or illegal, intoxicant.

Because of these trends, the random urine tests no longer work as well as they used to. Over the last few years, an increasing number of test defeating products have appeared on the market. The navy recently responded by prohibiting sailors from possessing any of these test defeating products. If this doesn't reduce the cheating sufficiently, the navy may have to go to hair tests. Drug traces remain in hair for about 90 days, but it is more time consuming and expensive to test hair.





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