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News > Abusing prescription drugs is just as illegal as abusing cocaine
Abusing prescription drugs is just as illegal as abusing cocaine

Posted 6/18/2010   Updated 6/18/2010 Email story   Print story

    


by Capt. Bryce G. Poole
316th Wing legal office


6/18/2010 - JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Over the past eight months, two flight engineers from the 99th Airlift Squadron, whose mission is to provide airlift support to distinguished VIPs including members of Congress, have been convicted by Special Courts-Martial of wrongfully using prescription medications.

On Nov. 9, 2009, Senior Airman Corey Ferguson was convicted of one count of wrongful use of Percocet on multiple occasions, and one count of wrongful use of prescription antidepressants without a prescription on multiple occasions. He was sentenced to 45 days confinement, reduction in rank, and 90 days hard labor without confinement upon release from prison.

On April 23, Staff Sgt. Anthony J. Joseph was convicted of one count of wrongful distribution of Percocet on multiple occasions, and one count of wrongfully using prescription antidepressants without a prescription on multiple occasions. He was sentenced to 40 days confinement and reduction in rank.

These convictions effectively ended their careers. Airman Ferguson had previously served for nine years, and Sergeant Joseph had previously served for 22 years. In other words, they knew better: These were not first term Airmen - they were experienced servicemembers with a reputation for being good workers, but they failed to internalize the principle that we are all Airmen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether we are in uniform or not.

Both Airman Ferguson and Sergeant Joseph thus end their careers with a blemish on their records that was completely avoidable if they would have made different, better choices. They also will have to bear the burden of a federal conviction for drug offenses for the rest of their lives.

What makes these cases particularly frightening is that both of these flight engineers were on flying status and were flying missions during the time they were abusing prescription medications. According to Air Force Instruction 11-202v3, Aerospace Medicine: Medical Examinations and Standards Volume 3 - Flying and Special Operational Duty, June 5, 2006, and AFI 48-123v3, Flying Operations - General Flight Rules, April 5, 2006, servicemembers on flying status have a duty to report to Flight Medicine if they are taking any medications or herbal supplements that are not on the Official Aircrew Approved Medications List.

If a servicemember on flying status takes any medication not on the approved list, he or she will be immediately placed in Duties Not Including Flying status. It is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for a servicemember on flying status to fail to inform Flight Medicine if he or she takes a medication or herbal supplement that is not on the approved list, punishable by a court-martial.

In addition to being a violation of the UCMJ for dereliction of duty, all servicemembers, whether on flying status or not, should remember that it is just as illegal to abuse prescription medications as it is to abuse cocaine. Both Airman Ferguson and Sergeant Joseph have learned a difficult lesson.

Servicemembers often say that this is not a one mistake Air Force; there is obviously a large difference between a mistake and a crime. Everyone can learn from the consequences of these Airmen's crimes that abusing prescription drugs is illegal and carries heavy consequences, including incarceration and a permanent federal conviction.



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