Army Revamps Drug And Alcohol Abuse Program

By McCarton Ackerman 10/23/15

A spike in suicides has prompted the army to start taking substance abuse more seriously.

soldier gets counseling.jpg

After a USA Today investigative report from last March exposed a spike in suicides and a drop in quality drug treatment among army members suffering from addiction, the army has recently revised their drug and alcohol abuse program.

Army Secretary John McHugh has reportedly moved the program back to the Army Medical Command. The move will be over a phased-in period that is completed by next October. Substance abuse counselors within mental health clinics will now be “embedded” with combat brigades so that treatment is both  more accessible and discreet. Drug and alcohol counselors currently work in separate clinics on each army base.

"They're finally going to bring some reasonable and responsible action to help soldiers," said Dr. Patrick Lillard, a psychiatrist and former clinical director of the army's largest in-patient substance abuse program at Fort Gordon, Ga. "It means that the direction of the substance abuse treatment program will be back in the province of medical people rather than command, so that decisions will be made by medical people."

The program had been under the army’s Installation Management Command since 2010, which lacks medical expertise. The USA Today story used senior army clinical staff members and records to show that half of all army treatment clinics fell below professional standards, with many of them hiring unqualified directors and counselors.

In addition, the report also found that about 90 soldiers had committed suicide within three months of receiving substance abuse treatment. Another 31 committed suicide shortly after receiving treatment at a substandard level, although the deaths were not blamed specifically on poor treatment.

Current and former clinic staff members said that about half of the 7,000 soldiers who were screened for potential drug abuse and given a clean bill of health should have been enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program and received counseling.

A separate study conducted in May 2014 found that synthetic marijuana is now the new drug of choice in the army, with army drug users twice as likely to use synthetic marijuana over regular pot.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.