Sunday, September 9, 2001

Ecstasy concerns
prompt increase
in Navy drug tests

Tests will double for sailors on
certain ships in Hawaii, the
West Coast, Guam and Asia

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Navy, which like the military's other services has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs, has ordered the doubling of drug tests for 4,600 sailors in Hawaii because of increased concern over the popularity of club drugs like Ecstasy.

The order by Rear Adm. Timothy LaFleur, Pacific Fleet's Naval Surface Force commander, was put into effect shortly after he took over in May, but is limited to cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships and related units on the West Coast, Hawaii, Guam and Asia.

It does not affect all of the 260,000 sailors assigned to the Pacific Fleet, including those on submarines, aircraft carriers, aircraft squadrons and shore-based units.

However, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Gordon, Pacific Fleet spokesman, said other commands are examining their policy and may follow.

"The increased drug screening was Adm. LaFleur's initiative and other senior commanders also are looking at similar measures," Gordon added.

For instance, at the Makalapa compound near Pearl Harbor, 100 members of Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Thomas Fargo's staff were called in one weekend in August and tested.

Earlier this year, the popularity of such club drugs as Ecstasy prompted the Pacific Air Force to begin random weekend testing at its seven installations here and in Alaska and Asia.

"Because of the surging popularity of drugs like Ecstasy, the problem we face is, the majority of club drugs cannot be detected on Monday morning," said Capt. Amy Sufak, Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman.

Although Ecstasy, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, has been available for at least three decades, the emergence of "raves" and their popularity among young people has caused concern for law enforcement.

Its chemical structure is similar to methamphetamine, or speed, and the hallucinogen mescaline.

The drug can increase heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, enabling users to dance for extended periods. In some cases, this has led to dehydration, hypertension and heart or kidney failure.

The Navy says that at least 20 percent of ship's crews will be tested randomly each month. This will mean that most sailors will have to submit to urinalysis four or more times a year instead of twice.

LaFleur is encouraging ship commanders to conduct random surprise tests on weekends, holidays and before and after days off.

He said the increased random testing is to discourage drug use by sailors in their first enlistment.

"If we make the risk too great, the sailors will make the right decision," LaFleur said.

In the past year, LaFleur said, about one-third of the sailors discharged during their initial four-year enlistment were caught using illicit drugs.

About 18,000 sailors left the Navy last year before their enlistment was completed.

About 95 percent of the sailors who tested positive for drug use were either court-martialed or discharged from the Navy.

In 1999, 6,302 sailors failed drug tests. The Navy's strength is at 375,618.

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