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NEWS | Nov. 9, 2010

Misuse of prescription drugs could cost career, jail time

By Airman Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

At some point in his career, a service member will be prescribed medication. Whether it's for a sore back, knee surgery or a tooth extraction, the prescription will eventually expire.

If caught using meds after the prescription expires or for anything other than what it is prescribed for, his physical pain may be the least of his worries.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice states it is illegal to wrongfully use controlled substances. Wrongful in its basic definition is without a legitimate medical reason, such as not having a prescription for the medication which was taken.

To use medication for anything other than its intended purpose or other than prescribed is considered to be misuse. Despite the law, service members testing positive from abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medication are becoming a common occurrence throughout the Air Force, said Selwyn Stephens, Drug Demand Reduction Program manager for Joint Base Charleston-Air Base.

"Prescription drug abuse numbers are on the rise," said Mr. Stephens. "It's important we get the word out to service members ... If your prescription is expired don't use it. Get a new prescription."

The prescription itself expires six months after it's written, according to federal law. Keeping pain medication in possession past its intended use for which the medication was intended allows the potential for breaking that rule.

Service members can also find themselves in another dilemma if they share medication. The excuse of "my friend gave it to me" doesn't work either.

"Simple use, and it's going to depend on the drug, can land you into confinement for up to five years, total reduction in grade and total forfeitures," said Capt. Jacob Nist, the 628th Air Base Wing chief of military justice. "So, the penalties can be pretty steep. Prescription drug abuse is a problem. All drug abuse is a problem, and it's incompatible with serving in the Air Force."

If a member is prosecuted under the UCMJ for wrongful use, they could also face up to a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.

"If you start using prescription drugs and you get caught, you're going to have to convince your numbered Air Force commander that you need to stay in," said Captain Nist. "But it's a three star that's going to have to make that decision to keep you on."

While there is no list of banned items for the Air Force, U.S. Code Title 21 Section 812 lists the types of controlled substances considered illegal. This list, as well as other information on illegal drug use, can be found on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's website at

Air Force legal and medical officials offer this advice to help avoid medication misuse:
· Review product ingredients; know what you are taking.
· See your physician to get medication if you're sick or in pain, instead of buying over the counter.
· Let your physician know if you've come into contact with a controlled substance while on the job, so it can be documented in your medication profile that an accident occurred. For example, if you're opening a box, and the substance inside is broken and gets on you.
· Only take medication for its intended purpose and for the prescribed dosage amount.

(Senior Airman Amanda Dick, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article)