The Army is doing away with weekly random drug tests in an effort to ease the burden on commanders while still deterring soldiers from using illicit drugs. Every soldier will be tested at least once a year.

A new directive from Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy calls for commanders at every level to ensure "random urinalysis testing at the rate of 10 percent of assigned end-strength each month."

Before this change, which is effective immediately, Army Regulation 600-85 required battalion-level commanders to randomly select and test 4 percent to 5 percent of the battalion's end-strength each week. In addition, different companies within that battalion would be detailed each week to conduct the sample collection.

"This requirement has proven to be extremely burdensome for units to execute," according to the memo Murphy signed April 22.

This burden on commanders, who Army leaders have said are already tasked with too many requirements, is now rescinded, according to the memo.

Army leaders "determined a 10 percent monthly random drug testing requirement is an achievable standard that continues to deter the use of illicit drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs," said Paul Prince, an Army spokesman.

The new requirement, as outlined in Army Directive 2016-15, calls for commanders at all levels to "ensure random urinalysis testing at the rate of 10 percent of their assigned end-strength each month," Prince said.

"Every soldier will be tested at least once annually," he said. "The change reduces the overall number of urinalyses each month and provides commanders with flexibility regarding when to conduct the drug tests."

The Army directive states commanders "should not" use unit sweep testing, or testing 100 percent of a unit's personnel, to meet the requirements.

The new requirement not only meets, but exceeds, Defense Department requirements, Prince said.

"The Army has and continues to implement drug testing at a rate of 100 percent of the assigned end-strength," he said. "The testing is conducted so that it not only provides a random selection of soldiers but also includes a randomness of frequency."

The Army's drug testing program works, Prince said.

"With 98 percent of the Army population testing negative for illicit drugs, soldiers demonstrate their ability to take responsibility for themselves, reinforcing the fact that our drug testing program is working," he said.

In fiscal year 2015, the Army tested more than 821,017 soldiers across all components, according to data provided by Prince. Of those, 10,675 of them — or 1.3 percent — tested positive.

The data was similar in fiscal years 2014 and 2014 as well.

In 2014, 12,062 soldiers tested positive out of 849,315 soldiers tested. That's a 1.4 percent positive rate.

More than 865,800 soldiers were tested in 2013; 13,106 tested positive for a rate of 1.5 percent.

"We are proud of the work commanders have done and will continue to do to be engaged with those they lead, not only by providing support to those who may need treatment, but also fostering an environment of trust, making soldier and units, and the Army as an institution, ready to meet any mission set before them," Prince said.

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

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