Think before you abuse prescription drugs: It will cost you

  • Published
  • By Lt. Commander Kenneth Simmet
  • 92nd Medical Operation Squadron Mental Health Flight Deputy Commander
Every service member knows there is a zero-tolerance policy regarding the abuse of illegal substances. What many don't seem to understand is that the same applies to the abuse of legally prescribed drugs, as well.

According to Air Force Instruction 36-3208, Administrative Separation of Airmen, drug abuse is defined as "the illegal, wrongful or improper use, possession, sale, transfer or introduction onto a military installation of any drug." This is not limited to only those drugs that have been lawfully labeled illegal.

The term 'drug' relates to "any intoxicating substance, other than alcohol, that is inhaled, injected, consumed, or introduced into the body in any manner for purposes of altering mood or function," states the instruction. So Airmen of all ranks should beware of the belief that legal medicines and drugs can be safely used as a way to alter state of mind.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2007, they averaged one death every nineteen minutes as a result of prescription drug misuse/abuse. They describe prescription drug abuse as the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. Additionally, the CDC reports that since 2003, prescription drug abuse has caused more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that more than half of teens who abuse prescription pain relievers say they get them for free, from the homes of family or friends. Many times, teens simply take the drugs without asking."

"We're just trying to get the word out to protect Fairchild personnel," said Peter LeGrand, the Drug Demand Reduction program manager. "It is against Air Force policy to abuse these substances, you may think it is innocent, but it's not."

According to the Karen Parrish, of the American Forces Press Service, The Defense Department's drug-testing program is expanding to add screening for two additional prescription medications to the range of legal and illegal drugs it currently detects.

Joe Angello, the Defense Department's director of operational readiness and safety, told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters the two drugs added to the screening program -- hydrocodone and benzodiazepines -- are nationally among the most abused prescription drugs now on the market. The program already tests for codeine and morphine, he noted.

It is important to understand the difference between use and abuse. You are authorized to use prescription medication only as ordered by the provider. That means you may use the medication for the duration of treatment, or depending on the reason for the prescription (i.e. as needed for pain, etc.), any single prescription for up to six months from the dispensing date.

If you use a prescription drug for other than it was ordered (i.e. to feel better vs pain management), or if you are taking a medication that was dispensed more than six months ago, you are guilty of abusing the medication.

"Patients must always remember that medication is prescribed for the patient seen, to treat a condition during that visit", says Maj. Jolene Norris, Chief Pharmacist at Fairchild.

"If all of the medication is not taken, this does not indicate that the patient can continue treatment on his/her own at a later date and time. It is also not recommended that a patient share his/her medication with friends or family members. This is especially true for controlled drugs such as Percocet, Lortab, and Vicodin. All controlled medications have a federal warning label stating that the medication should only be taken by the patient for whom it was prescribed. Noncompliance with this warning is a federal offense."

Parents should remember to keep medications out of reach of children. This would also apply to parents with teenagers. Unused and excess medication has become an increasing cause of drug poisoning in this group. Patients with questions on proper drug disposal may request a copy of FDA guidance on this topic from the pharmacy.

You can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, court-martialed or non-voluntarily discharged even for abusing substances that are deemed legal, said Mr. Le Grand. The consequences of drug abuse are high, as substance abusers in the military could be jeopardizing lives and valuable government property.

"All it takes is one person working on an aircraft under the influence of any substance and there goes a multi-million dollar aircraft. There are a lot of possible mistakes to be made, and working while impaired increases that risk," said LeGrand.

There is also the risk of substance abusers putting their life in danger, putting their wingman's life in danger, and losing their career in the military.

It all comes down to the fact that any military person "who engage(s) in drug abuse seriously impairs accomplishing the military mission," states the AFI. And those who do so will be properly disciplined.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has authorized National Drug Take-Back Days. There are two authorized days per year. During this date approved police departments are designated as DEA representatives to collect any unused/unwanted medications including controlled drugs. The next scheduled date for this event is April 28. Additional information on this program and sites can be found at , then 'google' drug take back in the search field.

For more information, call Mr. LeGrand at the DDR office at 247-3944.