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Corps ensures compliance with Alcohol Screening Program

Oct. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Marine officials have announced a new Alcohol Screening Program reporting requirement for commanders, who will now be responsible for ensuring that results of all breathalyzer screenings are reported via the Marine Corps Total Force System.

The reporting will help commanders track ASP compliance by “unit and individual,” according to Marine administrative message 521/13, signed Oct. 7.

“Breathalyzer screening completion for each Marine and sailor shall be entered in MCTFS via the Training Management System within Marine On-line or Unit Diary Manpower Integrated Personnel System,” the MARADMIN reads.

Individual Marines will also be able to view breathalyzer screening completion on their MCTFS Training and Education Record online.

The Alcohol Screening Program, which was rolled out Jan. 1, aims to curb alcohol abuse by randomly screening Marines twice a year, at their commander’s discretion, when they report for duty. The program’s first quarterly report — for April, May and June — showed that 16 on-duty Marines out of 5,125 tested popped positive for alcohol in their system.

Those numbers were expected to climb since just a small fraction of the service had been tested at the time. The program was still being stood up during fiscal 2013 as Marine and Family Programs Division — which directs the program — continued shipping necessary equipment to installations across the Corps.

Now that the equipment and training has been rolled out Corps-wide, the new reporting requirements will help the division track the success of alcohol prevention programs and awareness campaigns. The program did not take full effect until May, when breathalyzer devices were delivered to all major installations across the service, Dr. Linda Love told Marine Corps Times in September. Love is the assistant branch head of Prevention and Clinical Services at Marine and Family Programs Division aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

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 career advancement.

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