Military News

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Prescription drug abuse harms military careers

by Senior Airman Sam Fogleman
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

7/13/2015 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- With the shifting legal statuses of various controlled substances across the nation, it may be confusing for Airmen to keep things straight when it comes to prescription medications, legalized recreational substances and outlawed drugs. Particularly with the advent of statewide marijuana legalization here in Washington state and nearby Oregon, Fairchild Airmen are required to maintain the utmost vigilance in upholding military substance use standards.

Layers of complexity are added when a prescription written by an Air Force physician contains a drug that meets Drug Enforcement Agency scheduling. Usage of such substances, even when legally prescribed, outside of mandated administration often merits the same legal response as a substance completely banned in all circumstances.

"Wrongful use amounts to taking a substance outside of prescribed limits without legal justification," said Capt. Catherine Santiago, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Judge Advocate chief of military justice. "In such instances, because one will have been shown to have abused drugs, most likely the individual will be recommended for administrative separation."

Administrative separation parameters are detailed in Air Force Instruction 36-3208, Administrative Separation of Airmen, and drug use in particular is detailed in section 5.54 of that AFI.

Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice details the specifications of court-martial eligibility for violations of the Controlled Substances Act, which a plethora of prescription medications meet for scheduling.  One could be eligible for up to a dishonorable discharge, in addition to a variety of other penalties.

For wrongful use or possession of Schedule I-, II- and III-listed substances, up to five years confinement is a possibility.  For distribution, one can encounter a confinement timeframe of 15 years.  Oxycodone, for example, a widely prescribed painkiller, is listed under Schedule II, so a prescription and proper use during the prescription timeframe is crucial.

"Proper use will be in the medical record," said Lt. Col. Michelle Anton, 92nd Medical Group chief of medical staff.  "If the medical record shows that a member is being treated for a medical condition and was given a prescription for that condition, the record documents appropriate/intended use of the medication."

Anton added, "That bottle of Hydrocodone you have in your medicine cabinet after a back strain two years ago should NOT be taken for a knee sprain now.  It should absolutely NOT be shared with a friend for their knee sprain, either."

For information on how to properly dispose of unused medications, please consult the Food and Drug Administration's website at

For questions about the military drug policy, contact the Fairchild legal office at (509) 247-2838.

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