- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

Pentagon officials say they are not aware of an increase in the number of U.S. soldiers using illegal drugs, despite recent reports suggesting a growing problem, particularly among troops in Afghanistan.

“By and large, we’re still way below the civilian populous with the rate of drug use, based on the number of service members testing positive for drugs,” said Lt. Col. Rivers J. Johnson, a Pentagon spokesman.

Still, military officials acknowledged this week that disciplinary action had been taken against several Marines for using hashish and anabolic steroids last year while their unit was guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Drug offenses in the military typically are dealt with at the “lowest level possible,” meaning that disciplinary action is taken by brigade or company commanders.

Troops are drug tested randomly on a regular basis, and Col. Johnson said the overall rate of positive results decreased in 2003 and has remained constant in 2004. He added that the rate for soldiers tested in Afghanistan and Iraq was about the same as that in the Army as a whole.

Military officials say it is vital to maintain a drug-free force in the war on terrorism, which — in the case of Afghanistan — has found troops deployed to a country with serious drug problems.

The Bush administration said Afghanistan still is producing about 75 percent of the world’s poppy crops — plants used to make opium and heroin sold on the black market worldwide.

Left unchecked, the crop and the heroin it produces will undermine efforts to defeat terrorism and establish a democratic society in the war-torn country, Robert B. Charles, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told a House subcommittee in April.

Two recent magazine stories have suggested that drug use among U.S. soldiers might be on the rise.

An April 12 story in the New Yorker said “a number of active-duty and retired military and CIA officials” had indicated that there were “increasing reports of heroin use by American military personnel in Afghanistan, many of whom have been there for months, with few distractions.”

And a column in the May 10 edition of the American Conservative said, “Intelligence sources indicate that an investigation is going on to determine whether the drug use is simply a matter of supply and demand or something more sinister.”

Military officials stressed that the only reported incident of drug abuse among troops in Afghanistan involved hashish and steroids, not heroin.

“I have not heard anything about heroin use,” said Maj. Matt Morgan, a Marine spokesman at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where the unit that was guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is based.

“We haven’t prosecuted any cases; we haven’t seen any charges of heroin use,” he said, explaining that the hashish and steroids incident at the embassy involved “approximately six Marines,” who since have faced court-martial.

“The vast majority of drug use that we see in the military would be steroid use or other performance-enhancing type drugs,” Maj. Morgan said. “Often the Marines who would get involved in this stuff don’t even know it’s illegal.”

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