Air Force cracks down on misuse of prescription drugs

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amanda Reeves
  • Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
In an effort to combat substance abuse and maintain accountability of its forces, the Air Force is cracking down on the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.

Prescription drug misuse is considered any use of a prescription outside of its originally prescribed mandate and timeframe. This includes obvious abuse, like using prescription drugs to obtain a high, but also includes using an old prescription to treat a new medical illness or using a prescription beyond its expiration date.

On June 22, in the case of United States v. Airman First Class Austin J. Mull, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals overturned precedent set in 1993 and ruled prescription drug misuse constitutes abuse of a controlled substance in violation of Article 112A of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In other words, prescription drug misuse and abuse is considered the same category of offense as the use of any other controlled substance, such as narcotics.

The USAF has made it clear, there is zero tolerance on prescription drug abuse and has recently revised its own disciplinary regulations, particularly affecting the officer corps. If any disciplinary action is completed against an officer for drug abuse, including misuse of prescriptions, separation actions will be initiated. The update to Air Force Instruction 36-3206, Administrative Discharge Procedures for Commissioned Officers, further explains that there is no time limitation on separation actions, and the separation will be valid unless a waiver is actively sought and approved.

Officer retirements can also be adversely affected: Any officer applying for retirement who has received non-judicial punishment in the previous four years will automatically go up for an Officer Grade Determination Board.

These regulation changes reflect the sentiment that prescription drug abuse undermines the good order and discipline of the Air Force. The changes also hold officers to the same standard already in place for enlisted members.

In the military, drug misuse is often identified through random urinalysis screenings. When a member tests positive for a drug not identified in their military records, the member’s commander is required to initiate an investigation, not only creating a stressful event for the member, but also straining the unit’s and the base’s resources.

To avoid accidental misuse, military members should treat every prescription as a controlled substance. Once prescriptions have served their purpose and/or expired, people should dispose of them immediately to avoid confusion or temptation.

Reserve Citizen Airmen are also required to submit prescriptions from their civilian providers into their military records. This ensures consistency in their records if reservists are selected for a random urinalysis.

Reservists who have questions about a prescription’s validity should contact their medical provider or servicing Drug Demand Reduction Office.