Spice: Zero tolerance, all the time

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Airmen in the U.S. Air Force have a responsibility to know and follow all Air Force and Department of Defense policies set for them. Included in these policies is a zero tolerance for the use of illicit drugs, which includes synthetic marijuana, also known as "spice."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana), synthetic marijuana contains 'designer' cannabinoids, which are Schedule I controlled substances, making the drug illegal to handle. The drug also causes mind-altering effects, which may negatively affect an Airman's ability to perform his or her duties. According to the site, "Spice users report experiences similar to those produced by marijuana--elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception--and in some cases, the effects are even stronger than those of marijuana. Some users report psychotic effects like extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations."

Along with all of those side effects, the NIDA also stated that spice abusers have also reported rapid heart rates, vomiting, agitation, confusion, raised blood pressure, reduced blood supply to the heart and even heart attacks. But besides negative physical consequences, Airmen using the drug - in any way - may experience legal penalties.

"If you're [using, possessing, distributing or transporting illegal substances onto the base], there are very significant legal repercussions that will result from that - things that really can follow you for the rest of your life and completely destroy your military career very quickly," said Capt. Adam Delph, 341st Missile Wing military justice chief. "Wrongful use, possession, manufacture or introduction of a controlled substance - and spice is now a Schedule I controlled substance - the max punishment you can get is a dishonorable discharge and five years in jail. If you distribute something like that, the max is a dishonorable discharge and 15 years in jail."

The Air Force conducts random urinalysis screenings, which test Airmen for a broad range of drugs, and recently, synthetic marijuana was added to the screening list.

"We test for marijuana, amphetamines and methamphetamines, and the opiates and pain killers," said Paul Blystone, 341st Medical Operations Squadron Drug Demand Reduction Program manager. "The Air Force also added benzopines, which are anti-anxiety drugs, and spice to the random testing."

The random drug testing is a method used to prevent the misuse and abuse of illegal drugs as well as prescription medication. By doing the tests, the Drug Demand Reduction Program can positively identify Airmen using banned substances, and potentially help those people avoid adverse reactions to them.

"The big problem with spice and why it's important to deter use is because it's not a single drug with a specific chemical formula - it's a class of drug and the drugs that are being sold can be any of the formulas or a mixture of several of them," Blystone said. "That's what makes them particularly dangerous to service members - they can think they know the drug and then get a different or new breed of spice that may be particularly dangerous."

But a urinalysis is only one way an Airman can get caught for handling drugs, and Delph encourages awareness by all Team Malmstrom members.

"Drug testing is only one way that evidence can be produced of spice use," he said. "I want to make sure people understand that frankly, there are all kinds of misuses and abuses of drugs that happen all across the Air Force, and it's something we always have to be vigilant about and make sure we're watching. I've read statements and investigated some cases where some of them were initiated because an Airman stepped up and said 'listen, I saw this happen.' They're not doing it to get that person in trouble, they're trying to make sure that person doesn't go deeper down into that hole - deeper into drug abuse. I've seen that on this base. It's important to understand that it's the right thing to do - when you see something to report it. Report it to [Security Forces Operations, Investigations], the [Office of Special Investigations] or just to base security forces for that matter."

Using spice or other forms of synthetic drugs is considered illegal and goes against a written order by the wing commander, Air Force Instruction 44-121, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program, and the Air Force's core values. However, on top of all of those things, the drug is infused with chemicals and could have adverse reactions to the health of those who use it.

"There are documented dangers from using these kinds of drugs," Delph said. "But almost more importantly, is that because they are synthetic and these kinds of drugs are being changed all of the time... they're almost more dangerous because of the [health risks] that are undocumented and the ways we don't know the drug will affect you. It's difficult for the law enforcement community to keep up with these drugs because they're changing all the time. If you use something like spice, there's just no telling what it will do to you because the research is still ongoing. The bottom line is that it can have really lethal consequences to you both physically and career-wise; it can kill your career and it can kill you."