The Defense Department has expanded its zero tolerance for the use of illicit drugs to include synthetic marijuana, also known as "spice," the director of DOD's drug testing and program policy said here Dec. 13.
In an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Army Lt. Col. Tom Martin said that in addition to the broad range of drugs for which the military already randomly tests service members, synthetic marijuana will also be included.
"The message we're getting out now is that when you participate in our random urinalysis program, synthetic marijuana products or synthetic marijuana will now be tested along with our other drugs," he said. "It's been known in the general population, both in the medical community and various media reports, that synthetic marijuana drug use is a serious health concern."
Martin noted that while the military typically has a much lower level of drug use than in society at large, synthetic marijuana "still poses a significant risk to both the safety and readiness of our force."
"Prior to synthetic marijuana being banned," he said, "the department went out and did a random study looking at a sampling of military urine specimens from all the different services to see if synthetic marijuana was being used by our members. At that time, the positive rate, or the number of service members who tested positive, was about 2.5 percent."
To put that in perspective, he said, in 2012 the overall positive rate for all the drugs tested for in the urinalysis program was 0.9 percent.
"In 2012, synthetic marijuana products were banned through legislation," Martin said. "So we went back and did a similar study, and what we found is that the actual numbers went down." However, he added, a high number of service members are using synthetic marijuana.
In addition to testing for synthetic marijuana, Martin said, the military also randomly tests all service members for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and other drugs in the amphetamine class, including methamphetamines and the drug known as "ecstasy." The test also looks for codeine and morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, Vicodin, and different diazepines, such as Valium and Xanax.
Martin said even deployed troops are subject to random drug testing. "They are still mandated to be tested under the military's random urinalysis program; however, the frequency is determined by the operational tempo," he said.
If a random drug testing detects the presence of illegal drugs, Martin said, troops are subject to punishment under military law guidelines.
"Any service member who tests positive for either an illicit drug or misuse of a prescription drug falls under any actions deemed appropriate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well actions that are appropriate as deemed by their commander," he said.
With the addition of synthetic marijuana to an already stringent drug testing policy, Martin reiterated the department's commitment to zero tolerance for the abuse of illicit drugs.
"All service members participating in our urinalysis program will be tested for cannabinoids," he said. "And if they do test positive, they will be dealt with according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice."