December 8, 2010:
The U.S. Navy recently discharged fifteen sailors for using and distributing recreational drugs. The drugs were legal in Japan, where the sailors were stationed, but the navy, and other military services, had ordered their personnel to stay away from any mind altering substances (except commonly accepted stuff alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and nicotine.)
For several years now, the 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. Five 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. Meanwhile, an explosion of chemical knowledge has made it easier to develop new drugs that will, well, make you high. Some entrepreneurs try to make a lot of money with such new substances, before they are outlawed. After that, the gangsters take over, adding the new drug to their product list. To further complicate the situation for the U.S. military (which has personnel in over a hundred countries), not all nations outlaw all these new drugs.
The biggest problem here is that 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. Last year, the navy prohibited 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.
In the meantime, the U.S. Navy changed its policy on random drug testing. Instead of one, unannounced, urine test for everyone in a unit each year, there were 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 was meant to discourage more sailors from being tempted to use drugs. Sailors caught using drugs are usually discharged. The new policy was not as successful as hoped. So now the navy is conducting more investigations where drug use is suspected, and discharging those caught disobeying the rules.
The navy has a tremendous incentive to halt the drug use. 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 .less than .20 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 has a bit less than the navy.