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Campaign targets growing misuse of prescription drugs

Apr. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Pills and orange bottle
Pills and orange bottle (c8501089 / Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Pills and orange bottle (c8501089 / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Navy is kicking off a campaign to curb misuse of prescription drugs after concerning trends among sailors since the service began testing for more drugs two years ago.

Five hundred and twenty-four sailors have popped positive for illegal prescription drug usage in the first seven months of this fiscal year — and the Navy is on track to surpass last year’s total.

That has Navy experts racing to find out what’s going on before it’s too late.

The “Prescription for Discharge” campaign aims to ensure sailors correctly take their meds, report prescriptions and dispose of unneeded extras.

The misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a growing concern throughout the Defense Department, and it has had substantial implications for readiness and the military health system.

Roughly 25 percent of sailors are prescribed some type of medication, according to LaNorfeia Parker, deputy director of the Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Office

Approximately 0.7 percent of sailors confidentially reported “misuse” of prescription meds, according to the 2011 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors, which found the Navy’s rates below the DoD average.

The group most at risk for drug abuse: sailors ages 18 to 25. Though they constitute 30 percent of the Navy, they account for 71 percent of positive drug tests.

When it comes to prescription drugs, the old salts are more likely to pop positive.

“Prescription drugs are more associated with ailments and age, so it is more prevalent in older populations,” Parker said.

Use only as directed

The drugs most frequently prescribed — amphetamines, hydrocodone, hydromorphones, oxycodone and oxymorphones — have many dangerous side effects.

Sedatives are the second most commonly used, with 9.8 percent of sailors reporting using them in 2011. Of those, 0.6 percent reported misuse.

Both stimulants and anabolic steroids were used by fewer than 5 percent of service members.

Sailor focus groups also raised troubling issues.

They found that many sailors thought it was OK to take medication that had been prescribed to a family member. They associated the label of “illicit drugs” with marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine — not a little pill taken for a backache or a headache.

Not so, officials say: If your name is not on the bottle, don’t take it. And if your name is on the bottle, take it only as directed.

“We do have an aggressive urinalysis program,” Parker said. “The probability of someone being caught misusing is extremely high. We really want to sailors to take heed.”

The Navy in 2012 added two commonly abused and highly addictive prescription drugs to standard urinalysis tests: benzodiazepines (such as such as Ambien, Xanax and Valium) and hydrocodones (such as Xanax and Vicodin).

Any vaild prescription obtained off base must be documented in your service record, officials said. This will help manage your medications and prevent problems when you pop positive on a urinalysis.

Another goal: properly disposing of unneeded meds. Having those meds stick around in your medicine cabinet or under your bunk increases the propensity for misuse.

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