New drug testing increases frequency for Airmen

A recent change to the Air Force’s drug testing program aims to reduce the number of substance abusers by targeting Airmen most likely to use them.

The Air Force began its “Smart Testing” program Oct. 1, at three major commands while U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the KMC began Monday.

Under the program, individuals in the group shown to most likely use illicit drugs are being tested at a higher frequency than the rest of the population.

That target group includes those in the ranks of airman basic through senior airman and first and second lieutenants, said Col. Wayne Talcott, community protection division chief of the Air Force Medical Support Agency at Brooks City-Base, Texas.

“What we are really trying to do with Smart Testing is target the portion of our population that has the highest prevalence of drug use,” he said. “That is basically 18 to 25-year-olds.”

Colonel Talcott said Department of Defense research shows the target group is four times more likely to have a positive urinalysis than the remainder of the force. He also said that while the group makes up only 40 percent of the Air Force’s total end strength, they are responsible for 86 percent of positive drug tests.

As part of Smart Testing, the Air Force will increase the number of random drug tests it performs on the target group to equal the number of people in the group, said Colonel Talcott.

The Air Force previously used a test rate of 64 percent per year, Colonel Talcott said. This means that of 376,900 Airmen, about 241,220 drug tests would be performed during the course of the year. In October, the test rate for the target group increased, though it remained at 65 percent for the rest of the people.

Colonel Talcott said the system is fair because names are chosen at random by computer.

“We have a software program that has a listing of all the active duty (Airmen) that are subject to drug testing,” Colonel Talcott said. “The software selects names randomly for the numbers of tests we intend to run.”

He also said after a name is selected for drug testing, it is immediately put back into the system.

“That’s often called ‘selection with replacement,’” Colonel Talcott said. “That means that once you have been selected and tested, your name goes right back in the hopper for the next time they pull names.”

Because names are put back into the system and because they are drawn randomly, individuals cannot predict when they will be tested, or how many times they will be tested during the year, Colonel Talcott said.

Deborah Wheeler, 435th Medical Group Demand Reduction Program manager, said this new revision to the Air Force Drug Testing Program is a positive measure to maintain a safe and secure force.

For more information, call the 435th MDG Demand Reduction Office at 479-2395.
(Information Courtesy of Air Force Print News)