Drug Testing in US Military

Of all the employers who use drug testing, one of the largest is the United States Department of Defense. To combat widespread drug use among the military during the 1980s and earlier, the DoD implemented an aggressive drug testing policy.

Military Drug Testing

Who is Tested?

The military’s drug testing program is massive. Every active duty member of the military must be tested annually at least. Members of the National Guard and Reserve units are required to have drug testing once every two years. As a result, nearly 600,000 drug tests are conducted each month by the military.

How are the Tests Used?

If military personnel test positive for drugs, their results can be used against them in a number of ways depending on the purpose of the test. Most of the tests performed are part of random testing. Positive results can be used against personnel in court martial proceedings and in involuntary discharge cases. In fact, the only time positive results can not be used in court martial cases is when they are ordered by the commander. However, those results can still be used for involuntary discharges. Under most circumstances, military personnel do not have the right to refuse testing.

What Drugs do the Tests Check for?

The drug tests can check for a wide range of different chemicals. However, not all of them are checked in each sample. Every sample is always tested for three drugs: marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine. However, the labs do random tests of other drugs in the samples as well, including LSD, heroin, barbiturates, meth, and PCP. Commanders also have the right to request that certain urine specimens be checked for steroids, as well.

The Effects of the Drug Testing Policy

In the 1980s, drug use among military personnel was more common than it is today. While 25% of personnel then were using some type of illegal substance, today the number is less than 3%. Drug abuse in the military has dropped significantly since the implementation of the policy and is now considerably lower than the rates of drug abuse among civilians.

Zero Tolerance

Part of the reason for the drug policy’s effectiveness is its zero tolerance approach. If a drug test turns up positive, the guilty member of the military is punished accordingly. That means a court martial, a discharge from the military and possibly criminal prosecution. The military takes drug use very seriously. After all, the use of these drugs could affect their performance in the field and could jeopardize the lives of all those around them.

However, the military recognizes the severity of its policy and seeks to ensure that no one is falsely accused of drug use. Numerous efforts are taken to ensure the results are accurate. For example, thresholds for each drug have been established by the military. If a drug is present in the urine but at lower than threshold rates, the sample is still determined to be negative for the drug. That way the chance of false positives is reduced. Plus, two different types of screenings are used on each sample to make sure the results correspond.

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