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No room for prescription drug abuse, sharing in PA Air National Guard

Volunteers with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii and Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Substance Abuse Counseling Center will be collecting old prescription medication and expired over-the-counter drugs at a drop-off collection site near the Marine Corps Exchange in Mokapu Mall during the National Take-Back Initiative day scheduled Sept. 26, 2015. People with drop-offs can go to the collection site between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to safely dispose their old medicines. The SACC, as a part of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, strives to ensure safety as well as provide facilities, programs and services in direct support of units, individuals and families in order to enhance and sustain combat readiness for all operating forces and tenant organizations aboard the installation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Christine Cabalo/Released)

Story by Tech. Sgt. Ted Nichols

Joint Force Headquarters, Pennsylvania National Guard

Pennsylvania Air National Guard leadership continue to caution Airmen on the ramification of prescription drug abuse and misuse as Airmen across the force continue to violate established standards and face adverse administrative actions.

Taking a pill you have left in your medicine cabinet from a year ago when your knee hurt today because your other knee hurts may seem like an innocent act, but according to regulations constitutes abuse.

“I think all Airmen in the Pennsylvania Air Guard need to know how serious of a matter prescription abuse and sharing is,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Regan, Pennsylvania Air National Guard commander. “An old prescription or your friend’s prescription for the same issue you are facing isn’t a valid prescription. The health and welfare of our Airmen – our most important asset – is of utmost importance to our force, but they need to make sure they are taking care of themselves and their medical issues in acceptable ways.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines prescription drug abuse as taking a medication “for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone other than the person for whom they are prescribed.” Methods for abuse cited include: taking a medication that has been prescribed for somebody else, taking a drug in a high quality or in another manner than prescribed or taking a drug for another purpose than prescribed.

“Airmen need to make sure they treat all prescriptions with caution. It is never appropriate to take medication that was prescribed for someone else or to share your own. Using another person’s prescription medication can be dangerous and have unwanted side effects,” said Col. Laun Hallstrom, Pennsylvania Air National Guard state air surgeon. “Controlled medication can only be taken if there is a valid prescription written specifically for the individual and for the current problem.”

Last year, in United States v. Airman First Class Austin J. Mull, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals overruled its holding in United States v. Lancaster such that “the use of a controlled prescription drug for an ailment other than one for which the drug was prescribed” constitutes abuse of a controlled substance in violation of Article 112A of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, misuse of prescription drugs may be punished as a criminal offense under Section 6048, Wrongful Use and Possession of Controlled Substances, of the Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice.

“Airmen must carefully consider the consequences of their actions. A decision to misuse prescription drugs may result in adverse actions including, but not limited to, a reduction in rank, an administrative discharge from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and full or partial recoupment of education benefits or bonuses,” said Lt. Col. Amy Bryan, Pennsylvania Air National Guard staff judge advocate.

Another simple solution to avoiding the issue to begin with is making sure any unused drugs are properly disposed of when they are no longer valid or the exact reason they have been prescribed for has been remedied.

“Getting rid of medications that you no longer have a valid prescription for prevents the possibility of future abuse or misuse,” said Col. Hallstrom. “If you have leftover medications you no longer need, you should explore community or law enforcement prescription take-back programs or consult with your local pharmacy on disposal options to avoid the environmental impacts associated with improper disposal methods such as simply throwing them out or flushing them down the toilet.”

Airmen with additional questions or who are unsure about the validity of a medication they are taking should contact their medical provider or local military medical group. Additionally, they should contact their local medical group to make sure any prescriptions they are taking are properly annotated in their military medical record.

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