Number one in a cup

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brok McCarthy
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Call it what you will: operation golden flow, drug testing, that place people go to pee in a cup.

But no matter what it's called, the 75th Medical Operations Squadron's Drug Demand Reduction serves an important mission for Hill Air Force Base and the Air Force ... making sure base personnel aren't breaking the law and endangering the mission by using illegal substances.

"We have a very good drug testing program to deter drug usage on Hill," said Sue Smith, 75th Medical Operations Squadron drug demand reduction program manager. "If we don't deter someone, we will detect their drug use through testing."

With a permanent staff of only three, the office has the daunting task of overseeing the testing of 400 military and 200 civilian personnel a month. They also have to make sure all paperwork and packaging for urine specimens are perfect before being sent for tested.

"There are eight spots on a box that must be marked properly, and the paperwork must be filled out properly the first time. That means no corrections after the fact, like white out, may be used," Mrs. Smith said. "If everything isn't perfect, the whole box of 12 specimens will not be tested."

She said it is a requirement of the Air Force that, at most, one percent of specimens from a base can be rejected every year, a goal which Hill AFB has stayed every year for at least the past seven years.

In order for demand reduction to run as efficiently and as accurately as it does, the staff can't do it alone. Each week, three staff sergeants, two male and one female, are assigned as observers. With military people, observers are required to watch the specimen being produced. With civilians, observers escort them to the bathroom but do not watch the cup being filled.

Civilians are not monitored because the sample's temperature is taken within four minutes of a specimen being produced. If it isn't with in a certain range, the civilian is required to produce another sample before he can return to work.

"Before we had observers, if a civilian was ready to produce a specimen, we'd have to reorganize the area and pretty much stop military testing until the civilian was done," said Deanna Duran, drug testing program administrative manager. "Now, observers escort civilians to the bathroom and allow us to test both military and civilians simultaneously."

These observers are even more important when a commander decides to do a unit sweep, when every testable person in a unit is tested.

"People think this is an 8-5 job -- its not," said Mrs. Smith. "When there is a unit sweep we come in at 4:30 in the morning and work a 13-hour day."

During one of these sweeps, the staff can test upward of 600 people in those 13 hours, about the same amount tested over the course of one month.

"During the last sweep, we had eight extra collectors and 12 observers helping us," said Mrs. Duran. "For people who don't normally do this, they did a great job -- I was quite proud of them."

Once samples are taken and the boxes are packaged up, the specimens are sent to Brooks City Base, Texas, for military individuals, and to a company called Quest, in Pennsylvania, for civilians. If a test is negative, demand reduction knows in four to seven days. If a test is positive, it is processed a second time to make sure the test didn't give a false positive, and results are given to the base between seven and 10 days after everything is originally shipped out.

One thing the office has absolutely no control over is who is selected to come in to be tested.

"We use the same software the Navy and the Army use," Mrs. Smith said. "All we do is input a roster and the computer does the selection. Because names are selected like this, we have had people selected three days in a row before.

"A lot of people don't think this system is fair, but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be random."

She said for military, the computer does what's called smart testing, which is where grades E-1 through E-4 and O-1s and O-2s are selected more often than the other ranks because the individuals in those ranks are in an age range that is more likely to use drugs than any other age range. However, anyone in the military is susceptible. For example, Mrs. Smith said there was one time a general officer was selected twice in one week.

"To add a little levity to the situation, we have a frequent donor card," she said. "The first person to 10 gets a notepad with a calculator and clock built into it."

Mrs. Duran said because of the randomness of the testing system and the number of tests run, the organization catches people every month that uses drugs.

"You can run, but you can't hide," she said. "If you do drugs, we will catch you eventually."