MILITARY DRUG TEST WATERED DOWN ... LITERALLY
Soldiers training to go to Afghanistan who provided diluted urine samples in drug tests last fall were given a second chance to pee in a cup because the military had water bottles on hand during the screening procedure.
Thirty-eight of the 1,436 troops initially tested gave diluted samples, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act. Another 72 soldiers tested positive in September for illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and codeine.
"While the initial intent had been to treat the diluted results ( in accordance with ) the same ( administrative review ) process as positive results, it has been determined that bottles of water were provided to members waiting for their testing, thus contributing to the number of diluted samples," Cmdr. Tony Crewe, the military's director of careers administration, said in an Oct. 20 e-mail to a Defence Department policy adviser.
"To ensure that members who might otherwise have tested negative are not unduly restricted from deploying, it has been decided that these members will be retested. The probability of an illicit drug user testing negative on the second test and thus avoiding the ( administrative review ) process is seen as low compared to the probability of denying deployment to non-users who had diluted results."
Too much drinking water isn't the only reason people provide diluted urine samples.
"A diluted result may indicate that an individual has ingested masking agents in an attempt to hide evidence of illicit drug use," say military documents.
"In most cases, these members will be retested."
The bulk of the soldiers heading to Afghanistan next month were tested Sept. 25 and 26 at New Brunswick's CFB Gagetown.
Retesting those who gave diluted urine samples was scheduled for Oct. 18, more than three weeks later. If a person stopped using drugs, that would be enough time to flush any traces of marijuana, cocaine or codeine from their urine, said Harold Kalant, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's pharmacology department.
"The drugs would be out by then - long out," he said Tuesday.
If soldiers who had used drugs suspected they would be tested a second time, they might have been more cautious about using them again until they were safely over the second test, said Mr. Kalant, an international authority on alcohol and drug dependence.
Five admitted to using drugs after their first test results showed their urine was diluted, said Cmdr. Denise Laviolette, chief of public affairs at military personnel.
Four soldiers failed the second test and three provided diluted urine samples again, Cmdr. Laviolette said Tuesday.
Those 12 soldiers will not be heading to Afghanistan.
But the remaining 26 soldiers who gave diluted samples in September passed the second drug test in October.
"Conceivably, then, they were not dirty in the first place or, if they were, they were concerned enough to stay off the drugs until the tests were repeated," Mr. Kalant said.
The delay between the first and second tests was due to the large number of people going through the process, Cmdr. Laviolette said. The military also wanted to surprise soldiers with the second test, she said.
"Is it possible that somebody who was taking illicit drugs ended up being deployed? I can't say no, because it is possible," Cmdr. Laviolette said. "But we do everything we can to prevent that from happening."
Soldiers could face "surprise testing" once they reach Afghanistan, she said.
"There's nothing that says they can't do it in theatre. It would be a little bit of an administrative or logistics nightmare but the commanding officer . has the authority to test folks."
Military documents show the head of the army had wanted soldiers who failed drug tests or provided diluted samples "released quickly to send a message to all that usage of illicit drugs will not be tolerated."
But military administrators advised him not to rush the process. "We have a long-standing practice of attempting to rehabilitate first-time users of soft drugs," Cmdr. Crewe wrote in his Oct. 20 e-mail.
The troops who were tested last fall are slated to be part of Canada's task force in Afghanistan next month. About 1,160 are based in Atlantic Canada.
Of those who flunked the drug tests last fall, documents show 79 per cent tested positive for marijuana, 11 per cent had cocaine in their systems, five per cent tested positive for codeine, and five per cent had both marijuana and cocaine in their urine.
Of about 2,500 soldiers training to go to Afghanistan for the next six months, a total of 88 tested positive for illicit drug use.
Unless they had a legitimate prescription for codeine, those soldiers, as well as the five who admitted to taking drugs, won't be making the trip to Afghanistan because they are undergoing an administrative review.
Disciplinary action can range from counselling and probation to release from the Forces.
2007 The Halifax Herald Limited