All You Need to Know About Military Drug Testing

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.

The US military – the Navy in particular – exercises a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. This means that the entire process of testing is that much more critically and carefully observed in order to remove any member of the military branches who violates that policy.

Process of Military Drug Testing

  1. Each member of the armed forces undergoes at least one random drug test per year (in the Navy this is upped to 4 a month and in the Reserves once every two years and equals roughly 600,000 tests each month). This means that the drill instructor of every unit is able to call for either his entire unit or a part of his unit undergoes drug testing when he/she wishes. These results can be used in court marshall and in the event of an involuntary discharge. While the drill sergeant can call for a random drug screen they can’t ask a specific person to be tested and the service member can’t refuse to submit to testing.
  2. When asked to submit to a drug test that member must first initial the test bottle then give the test sample under supervision.
  3. The officer in charge of supervising boxes them up in batches and begins a chain of custody document for every batch.
  4. From here on out anyone who handles that batch must add their name to the chain of command document. This continues into the test lab as well.
  5. Lab technicians record their names and what they do with the sample.
  6. Each sample undergoes immunoassay screening.
  7. Those that test positive are tested again using the same screening method.
  8. Those which test positive twice are then tested a third time by a gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry test which looks for specific substances in the urine.
  9. If the level is under a certain amount it’s reported negative; if it’s above that level, it’s officially a positive test. The DOD is capable of testing for marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, barbiturates, PCP and opiates but doesn’t always test for all of these drugs. All samples are tested for amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine and if a drill sergeant would like the sample to be tested for steroids as well.
  10. If you are found to have a positive drug test, you will undergo punishment. This means you will undergo court marshal, discharge from the military and also the likelihood of undergoing criminal prosecution.

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 marshall proceedings and in involuntary discharge cases. In fact, the only time positive results cannot be used in court marshall cases is when they are ordered by the commander. However, those results can still be used for involuntary discharges. Under most circumstances, military personnel does not have the right to refuse to test.

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.

About the Zero Tolerance Policy

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 marshall, 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.

In addition, two different types of screenings are used on each sample to make sure the results correspond.

Final Word

The military takes substance abuse very seriously. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, a service member is useless to his or her unit, requiring them to be monitored. In a combat situation, this is not only tedious it is a liability that could get people killed either through lack of focus from the rest of the team or miscalculations on the part of the affected service member. Under no circumstances should a working unit of the military be so handicapped.