By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Gabriel Owens, USS New Orleans Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO - The commanding officer of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) has made great strides in rooting out Sailors using "Spice" aboard ship, leading to one Sailor being separated with an other than honorable discharge, and fifteen others pending administrative separation.
Cmdr. Dennis Jacko takes the Navy's "no-tolerance" policy on Spice, a synthetic marijuana, seriously.
"Not on my watch, not on my ship, not in my Navy," Jacko said, echoing the message that came with the institution of the Navy's drug screening program in 1981, and still focuses on the Navy's Zero Tolerance policy for drug use.
All service members found guilty of use or possession of Spice or any other illicit drug will face administrative separation proceedings in addition to restriction, reduction in rank and pay forfeiture, said Jacko.
"The Navy's policy on drugs and spice is clear - zero tolerance," he said. "Drug abuse puts lives and the mission at risk and undercuts unit readiness and morale. The use of synthetic drugs, to include Spice, is illegal and we will continue to aggressively investigate these synthetic drugs and hold those in violation accountable."
Jacko, along with his senior leadership, began taking measures to ensure a drug-free ship, including health and comfort bunk and locker searches, a surprise full "command sweep" urinalysis of all hands, employing alert urinalysis observers, involving the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and drug-sniffing dogs.
In early August, leadership onboard "Big Easy" identified several junior Sailors using an empty Marine troop berthing to smoke Spice. In the ensuing investigation seven Sailors tested positive for Spice from a command-directed urinalysis.
Nine additional Sailors tested positive for Spice from an unannounced command sweep urinalysis conducted at the end of July. The investigation yielded no evidence that there was Spice use while the ship was deployed.
"The entire command regularly receives refresher training on Spice and other drugs," said Jacko. "Also, we ensure that the senior leadership is trained on the signs of use and abuse among their Sailors. Having a proven and effective test now is also a strong deterrent for use."
The Navy's history of Zero Tolerance clearly shows dramatic gains in reducing illicit drug use. In 1982, the first year of urinalysis screening, the percent of positive samples was 7.21 percent. For fiscal year 2011, that number was less than one percent, with a total of 1,515 out of 1,184,160 samples testing positive.
A recent article written by Navy Surgeon General, Vice Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, urged all commanding officers and others in positions of leadership to be fully engaged in their command's implementation plan to continually communicate and educate all hands as to the Navy's zero-tolerance policy on synthetic designer drugs.
"We cannot over-communicate this issue," said Nathan.
"There have also been civilian deaths and reported suicides associated with the use of synthetic drugs. Our medical providers have witnessed and treated many of these reported symptoms at military treatment facilities," he said. "I cannot emphasize enough to our Sailors and Marines that using synthetic drugs really is just like playing Russian roulette with their health, not to mention their career."
The effects of these drugs can greatly impact a command from a work center accomplishing daily tasks all the way up to mission readiness, said Jacko.
"Sailors understand that using spice or any other drug will result in other-than-honorable separation and loss of all benefits, such as the GI Bill. The crew is proud of their successes through a great deployment, and can do without those who decide to use drugs," he said. "They are weight dragging down their shipmates who are carrying the load."
On March 1, 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals used to make Spice and other "fake-pot" type products.
New Orleans is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship whose war-fighting capabilities include a state-of-the-art command and control suite, substantially increased vehicle lift capacity, a large flight deck, and advanced ship survivability features that enhance its ability to operate in a littoral environment.