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On-duty Marines pop positive in spot blood-alcohol tests

Sep. 14, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Marine Corps is randomly screening Marines at work twice a year for alcohol testing. Sixteen Marines tested positive from April through June. A total of 5,125 Marines have been tested so far, with only three-tenths of 1 percent having alcohol in their systems, but the pace of screenings is expected to pick up.
The Marine Corps is randomly screening Marines at work twice a year for alcohol testing. Sixteen Marines tested positive from April through June. A total of 5,125 Marines have been tested so far, with only three-tenths of 1 percent having alcohol in their systems, but the pace of screenings is expected to pick up. (Ryan McVay / Getty Images)
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Sixteen on-duty Marines have tested positive for alcohol during surprise breathalyzer tests in April, May and June, and more than half of them had the rough equivalent of two or more shots of alcohol in their systems, according to Marine Corps statistics..

Just three-tenths of 1 percent of the 5,125 Marines tested so far have popped positive for alcohol. The number of positive tests is expected to climb significantly in the months to come, however, as tens of thousands of more Marines are screened. The next quarterly report, on screenings performed in July, August and September, is due out in October, according to Marine officials.

The Marine Corps’ new Alcohol Screening Program aims to curb excessive drinking and prevent Marines from reporting to work under the influence, especially after a night of partying. But the program did not take full effect until May, when breathalyzer devices were delivered to all major installations across the service, said Dr. Linda Love, assistant branch head of Prevention and Clinical Services at Marine and Family Programs Division aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Now that every base has the necessary gear, all Marines will be subject to random screening twice each year. The screenings will occur at their unit commander’s discretion, usually as Marines report for duty.

Of the 16 Marines who screened positive for alcohol while on duty, seven had a blood-alcohol content between .02 and .03, according to the program’s first quarterly report, which covers screenings administered through June 30. Another nine had a blood-alcohol content that was .04 or above.

Those with a positive screen below .03 can be dealt with as a commander sees fit. In many cases, if it is a first-time incident, Marines may be informally counseled or let off the hook altogether. But those with a pattern of risky behavior may be referred for formal substance-abuse counseling.

Those who screen positive at .04 and above, on the other hand, are automatically and immediately referred for a medical evaluation, according to Ronnie Edwards, the substance abuse prevention specialist at Marine and Family Programs Division. That includes a blood test to determine the level of alcohol in their system.

Once sober, they are referred to a substance abuse counseling center where they are evaluated to determine the best course of action. That can include referral to Prime for Life education, a 16-hour program that addresses the health and safety risks associated with irresponsible and excessive alcohol consumption. In more serious cases, Marines can be sent to outpatient treatment, particularly if they have a history of alcohol abuse. The counseling center assessment could also find that a Marine does not have a substance abuse problem, but suffered a one-time lapse in judgment.

The Alcohol Screening Program was prompted by the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative created by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to address a wide range of health and behavioral concerns, from sexual assaults to motorcycle accidents. Alcohol has been targeted because service leaders have identified it as an important contributing factor in suicides, domestic violence and other behavioral issues that jeopardize personal and unit readiness.

In most cases the results of breathalyzer tests will not be used to punish Marines, Mabus said late last year.

But, those Marines or sailors who are over the legal intoxication limit of 0.08 for adults or 0.02 for drivers under 21 could find themselves in serious trouble. Even those who test at lower levels, but are formally referred to substance-abuse counseling, could find the blemish a stumbling block to advancing their careers.

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