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Air Force "Targets" Drug Tests

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Updated April 21, 2011
by Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON -- A recent change to the Air Force's drug testing program aims to further reduce the number of substance abusers by targeting Airmen most likely to use them.

The Air Force began its "Smart Testing" program Oct. 1, at three major commands. Under the program, individuals in the group shown to most likely use illicit drugs are being tested at a higher frequency than the rest of the population. That target group includes those in the ranks of airman basic through senior airman and first and second lieutenants, said Col. Wayne Talcott, community protection division chief of the Air Force Medical Support Agency at Brooks City-Base, Texas.

"What we are really trying to do with Smart Testing is target the portion of our population that has the highest prevalence of drug use," he said. "That is basically 18-25 year olds."

Colonel Talcott said Department of Defense research shows the target group is four times more likely to have a positive urinalysis than the remainder of the force. He also said that while the group makes up only 40 percent of the Air Force's total end strength, they are responsible for 86 percent of positive drug tests.

As part of Smart Testing, the Air Force will increase the number of random drug tests it performs on the target group to equal the number of people in the group, said Colonel Talcott.

"We have already started Smart Testing at three major commands," he said. "Slowly, through the rest of October and into November you'll see Smart Testing across the Air Force."

The Air Force previously used a test rate of 64 percent per year, Colonel Talcott said. This means that of 376,900 Airmen, about 241,220 drug tests would be performed during the course of the year. In October, the test rate for the target group increased, though it remained at 64 percent for the rest of the people.

Colonel Talcott said the system is fair because names are chosen at random by computer.

"We have a software program that has a listing of all the active duty (Airmen) that are subject to drug testing," Colonel Talcott said. "The software selects names randomly for the numbers of tests we intend to run."

He also said that after a name is selected for drug testing, it is immediately put back into the system.

"That's often called 'selection with replacement,’" Colonel Talcott said. "That means that once you have been selected and tested, your name goes right back in the hopper for the next time they pull names."

Because names are put back into the system and because they are drawn randomly, individuals cannot predict when they will be tested, or how many times they will be tested during the year, Colonel Talcott said.

For Airmen in the target group, what they can predict is that they are more likely to be tested now than they were in the past.

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