Prescription drugs can end your career

  • Published
  • By Col. Howard Hayes
  • 354th Medical Group commander
In May 2007 a technical sergeant in my squadron took a single pill from his son's prescription bottle. That pill started him down the road toward a court martial and discharge from the Air Force.

The drug was a low level amphetamine used to correct Attention Deficit Disorder. Both the sergeant and his son suffered from the same condition and used the same medication. The NCO had exhausted his supply and since he was too busy to make an appointment he took the pill from his son's supply. Without a current prescription he was found guilty of illegal drug use.

When I heard about the case I thought "No big deal, it was the correct drug, he had just run out." After all, his doctor would probably renew the prescription when he went in for his next appointment. As it turns out, this NCO lost his line number for master sergeant and was referred for court martial.

Nothing I could do as his commander could stop the process as he had turned up positive on a urinalysis test without a prescription. The case was referred to a major general who allowed the sergeant to remain in the Air Force after paying a fine and losing his line number.

Later that year a master sergeant complained to his friend that he was having trouble concentrating on the job. His Top-3 buddy told him that it sounded just like his Attention Deficit Disorder and he gave the sergeant one of his pills. He told his friend to wait until the weekend to take the drug since he didn't know how it would affect another person.

Well, that weekend his friend took the pill and on Monday it was detected on a urinalysis test. The master sergeant was found guilty of distributing drugs and his friend was guilty of using an amphetamine without a prescription. Both were lucky enough to receive early retirements.

Each time the clinic gives you a new prescription your provider will give you instructions on the use of that drug. When you pick the drug up the pharmacist will review your medications in the computer, print out an instruction sheet for your use, ensure the bottle is properly labeled, and finally ask if you understand how to use the drug.

If you are taking an antibiotic we will tell you to take all the pills. Although you may begin to feel well soon after the first dose, it is important to consume all the pills in order to affect possible resistant strains of bacteria. If you are prescribed a pain killer, you must use the drug for the injury that it is currently prescribed for and not store the drug for future use.

You cannot self-prescribe medications for the same symptoms just because you have pills left over, unless your current provider has clearly given you permission to do so and your prescription is still valid. And, you cannot provide your drugs to another person, that's a violation of both state laws and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

Drugs have a shelf-life, are dangerous around young children, and will only cause you problems when they are no longer needed. If you have old prescriptions the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends that you:

1. Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.

2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.

3. Put this mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or sealable bag.

4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including prescription number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.

5. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.

Bottom line: Don't take drugs from your friends or give drugs to others--it's illegal; it can ruin your career; and it can have serious health consequences.