Anyone can be affected by substance abuse and members of the U.S. armed forces are not excluded. Even though the percentage of drug use among the U.S. Army is lower than civilians, heavy drinking, tobacco use, and especially prescription drug abuse are widespread and the public health problem on the rise.
According to a survey conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2008, an estimated 2.3% of military personnel had used illicit drugs in the past month compared to 12% of illicit drug users among civilians. Military personnel ages 18 to 25 are most likely to abuse illicit drugs with 3.9% of personnel reported as drug abusers.
Fortunately, there is a program that can help prevent the increasing percentage of substance abuse among military personnel. The Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) offers guidance to active soldiers on duty, DACs, retirees as well as their family members. The goal of this program is to support the general fitness and efficiency of the members of the armed forces and helps with enhancing the readiness of the soldiers in facing battle. Command participation during the identification, recommendation, screening, and assessment process is crucial.
Members who fail to participation as instructed by the commander or those who do not make it to the rehabilitation are subject for an administrative separation. Commanders will automatically separate those soldiers who are recognized as drug abusers from the others. Commanders should require an assessment of all the soldiers that they suspect are having problems with alcohol and/ drug abuse.
The commander needs to make sure the military personnel who are enrolled in a rehabilitation treatment program are attending therapy sessions, engaging in random biochemical testing, and actively participating in the treatment program. The rehabilitation treatment process aims to return the soldiers in their duty as soon as possible or find a place those soldiers who will require more time in the rehabilitation process.
Some branches of the military have already taken steps to reduce substance abuse. For instance, the Army has applied changes which include restricting the duration of use of painkillers for 6 months and assigning a private pharmacist to monitor soldier’s medications when prescription drugs are needed.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other branches of the government are currently funding studies to create a better understanding of the underlying causes of drug use and other psychological health problems among the members of the U.S. Army, veterans, and their families as well as discovering the best way to prevent and treat the disease.