- Feb 8, 2007
- Land of Swine and Maple Syrup
I'm schocked it took this long to do this kind of blanket testing. It's good that it's being done though.
1 in 20 Canadian non-combat soldiers tests positive for drugs
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | 7:03 AM ET Comments47Recommend27
The Canadian Press
Random tests conducted on more than 3,000 military personnel from coast to coast found more than five per cent of Canadian soldiers and sailors in non-combat roles tested positive for illicit drug use.
The results provided to the Canadian Press show that over a four-month period, 1,392 sailors in the navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets and 1,673 soldiers in the army's four regions and training branch were subjected to blind drug testing.
Averaged out, 6.5 per cent of those tested in the navy and five per cent in the army indicated positive results, almost entirely for marijuana.
Lt.-Col. Lisa Noonan, spokeswoman for the chief of military personnel, said from Ottawa that the use of illicit drugs in the general Canadian population is about 12 or 14 per cent.
"So we are less than half of the prevalence rate of the Canadian population," she said.
The results have prompted broader testing across the entire Canadian military — roughly 65,000 regular members and 24,000 reservists.
"Any kind of drug usage, of course, is not condoned in the Canadian Forces," said Noonan.
"We have a number of programs and policies in place to deter this drug usage and to continue to ensure that we get it down as close to zero per cent as possible."
Testing staff caught soldiers off guard
The blind drug tests, which began in mid-December last year, were done without prior notice.
Testing staff moved in, building exits or ship gangplanks were sealed, and all personnel were required to provide a urine sample on an anonymous basis.
Age and rank groupings were tallied, but gender was not in an effort to protect the privacy of the very few women in some units.
"It really was time to start looking at this issue to see if we did have a problem," Noonan said.
She denied the tests had anything to do with a series of high-profile cocaine and marijuana charges laid following a military sting operation that netted a half dozen non-commissioned members aboard a coastal patrol ship based at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island in early 2006.
"That wasn't the impetus for it. This has been in the works for quite a long time because we wanted to essentially take a look at drug prevalence in the Canadian Forces overall," Noonan said.
"Having said that, the navy was certainly very interested in seeing if we have a drug issue in any of the units, either on the west or east coast."
Noonan said the tests will be stepped up to eventually look at drug prevalence rates on every single base and air force wing.
The information will give the military a better overall indication of drug use, she said.
"Then we can adjust our programs and policies accordingly," she said, adding that the Canadian Forces' policy of zero-tolerance won't change.
Soldiers testing positive are treated, not fired
Forces' officials explained a positive drug use result does not necessarily mean the end of a military career because the Canadian Forces invests too much time, effort and money into training and maintaining its personnel.
Results from a safety-sensitive drug test cannot be used in court.
But there is an "administrative follow up" consisting of a medical assessment for drug usage, a determination of whether a treatment program is required, and whether the person will be removed from his or her position.
If that person does carry through with the action required, they may be able to resume their position as before.
"It's absolutely critical if we can at all try to assist a member stopping drug usage and help them," Noonan said.
Noonan said it's difficult to estimate the costs for drug-abuse treatment, but she estimated it cost about $3 million for the staff to treat those who have sought help.
The blind drug testing initiative has cost about $80,000 so far.
The Forces also operates a separate mandatory testing program in so-called "high-risk, safety sensitive" military occupations, which includes all personnel deployed to Afghanistan. That program has been in place for two years.
In documentation supplied to the Canadian Press, the military said initial testing of combat-bound personnel in the spring of 2007 "saw 4.3 per cent of soldiers test positive, whereas more recent testing [winter 2008] found only 1.8 per cent of soldiers test positive."
Noonan attributed the drop largely to the drug testing.