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May 19, 1989

Like Other Segments of Culture, Military Has Had to Come to Grips With Drug Abuse Problems

JAMA. 1989;261(19):2784-2788. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03420190054009

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IN MAY 1981, during night military exercises off Florida's Atlantic coast, a Navy plane crashed on the aircraft carrier Nimitz, killing 14 persons, including the plane's pilot, and injuring 42.

Subsequently, it was found that the pilot had excessive levels of antihistamines in his blood—11 times more than the recommended therapeutic levels. These developments helped to stimulate a rapid expansion of the Navy's drug abuse screening program.

The Army and the Air Force also have acknowledged the problem and screen their personnel at regular intervals for drugs of abuse. The Navy's drug screening laboratories collaborate with those of the other services.

Abuse Seems to Be Declining  As a result, says the Department of Defense, use of illegal drugs among members of the US military has dropped at least 80% since 1980. That estimate is based in large part on anonymous responses from 17 213 armed services members questioned in a