By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2012 – Drug and substance abuse among Defense Department military and civilian personnel and their families is at its lowest point in the department’s history, the Pentagon’s director of operational readiness and safety said.
The substance abuse rate dropped from 7.5 percent in 1980 to less than 1 percent in fiscal 2011, Joseph Angello Jr. said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
Angello said Red Ribbon Week, recognized nationally since 1990 to increase drug abuse awareness, which begins Oct. 23, provides an opportunity to note that fighting drug abuse in the armed forces has come a long way.
“The drug prevalence in the DOD military and civilian population is four times lower than the comparable population in the United States,” he said. “We need to maintain that in DOD.”
This year's national Red Ribbon Week slogan is "We all do better when were drug-free," Angello noted. "We at DOD need to keep that in mind and move forward along those lines," he said.
While Red Ribbon Week focuses awareness, Angello said, curbing drug abuse is a year-round issue. “We focus on drug awareness prevention daily,” he added.
Abuse of illicit substances and drugs, as well as abuse of prescription medication, alters a person's state of mind and affects military readiness, Angello said, adding that the lives of service members depend on everyone doing their jobs well and in a focused manner.
“We operate in a very dangerous environment -- a lethal environment,” he said. “We need people at their full 100 percent. We can’t have illegal drug use diminishing the readiness of our units.”
Drug use can have life-or-death consequences, Angello said.
An awards ceremony today in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes highlighted the best counterdrug programs in each service and defense agency. The DOD Community Drug Awareness Award recipients are:
-- Army Substance Abuse Program, Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, Germany;
-- Drug Demand Reduction Program, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.;
-- Drug Education for Youth, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic, Norfolk, Va.;
-- Drug Demand Reduction Program, 97th Air Mobility Wing, Altus Air Force Base, Okla.; and
-- Counterdrug Program, Drug Demand Reduction, South Dakota National Guard, Rapid City, S.D.
DOD's Fulcrum Shield award also was presented to the National Young Marines Drug Demand Reduction Program based in the nation’s capital. The award was established in 2001 to recognize the work of independent military-affiliated youth organizations that imparted the fight against drugs in the best anti-drug message in its community.
“This award is very important, because we are affecting the future of our force," Angello said of the Fulcrum Shield. "It’s our high-schoolers who become our next soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. This affects DOD long-term, and it’s what’s right to do for this nation."
Angello said all the awardees have performed "phenomenal work," and that they were culled from the cream of the crop in a tough competition.
"I look forward to learning from them," he said. "They’re working day in and day out, making this happen."