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Prescription meds: Proceed with caution

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- With a steady military healthcare system and a variety of medical resources in the Air Force, it can be difficult for some Airmen to ensure their prescribed medications are current.

When Airmen ignore inspecting their medicine cabinets they risk possible damage to their careers and, more importantly, can jeopardize their health.

"Because Airmen are usually in good health, pain problems or injuries that occur during their service will often be resolved before their prescribed medication (runs) out," said Bill Franklin, 28th Medical Operations Squadron drug demand reduction chief.

This becomes a problem later if Airmen take those medications after the prescription has expired.

Air Force officials regularly require urinalysis tests for Airmen, therefore, this problem is made more obvious than it is in the civilian world, Mr. Franklin said.

Three days a week, on average, various Ellsworth Airmen are randomly required to perform urine analysis tests, which equates 50 to 60 people per day, 700 hundred per quarter and approximately 2,700 per year.

Among these numbers, first term enlisted Airmen and lieutenants are tested more frequently. This is done because first term Airmen and lieutenants usually fall into the highest risk age group for drug abuse, 20 to 28 years old.

Airmen who test positive for expired or borrowed prescriptions are subject to legal proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and incur punishments similar to those who test positive for illegal narcotics.

"Wrongful use of prescription drugs is a violation of Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice," said Capt. Heather Rowlison, 28th Bomb Wing assistant staff judge advocate. "Violations of this article can be punished at court martial, with a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge and a confinement of up to 15 years."

Giving medication to other Airmen to help with temporary pain or due to self-diagnosis, is also another pitfall for Airmen.

"I was having trouble sleeping at nights due to a recent family tragedy," said an Ellsworth Airman, who asked not to be identified. "My co-worker gave me one of her prescribed (sleeping pills) the next day and I took it without even thinking about it."

In addition to potential damage to Airmen's careers, prescription drugs have possible physical side effects as well.

"Medicine and drugs prescribed for one individual can seriously play havoc with your body, metabolism and allergies," Mr. Franklin said. "Only your doctor knows best."

Side effects of painkillers and anti-depressants include a general lack of interest, light-headedness, slowed and shallow breathing, liver and pancreas damage and overdoses which can lead to death.

Fortunately, incidents like these can be avoided if Airmen simply follow their doctor or primary care manager's instructions, said Mr. Franklin.

-- If a medical problem persists, see doctor or PCM to extend or renew prescriptions
-- Dispose of expired or left over medications by mixing them with undesirable materials such as kitty litter
-- Keep medication lists updated and accurate
-- Provide healthcare providers with the most complete and up-to-date record of prescriptions to assist in prescribing the safest
and most effective medication

By practicing these steps Airmen can avoid the possible legal repercussions or health hazards of misusing prescription drugs.