Drug cut off levelsJune 22, 2020
Servicemembers are subject to routine drug testing. The military usually uses urine, as opposed to blood testing. After a sample is collected, it is sent to one of several drug testing facilities around the Country. This facility performs initial screenings on each sample, testing for the presence of certain substances that indicate drug use. During this initial screening, the lab technicians compare the presence of certain substances in the urine samples to drug cut off levels. These levels vary. If a urine sample is over the drug cut off level, a second testing is conducted to confirm the initial test. If the second test is positive, then the urine sample is considered to be a positive test. Positive tests are compared to a Servicemember's current prescriptions to see if he/she is authorized to be using the drug in question.
At this point, the positive test results are sent back to the Servicemember's unit. The unit then determines what action, if any, to take (i.e. Court-Martial, Separation Board, Article 15).
Drug cut off levels are in place, in part, to protect Servicemembers against false positive tests. For example, some innocent products can cause slightly higher levels of a certain substance that could otherwise indicate illegal drug use. Ignoring drug cut off levels can lead to Servicemembers being falsely accused of using illegal substances.
One misnomer is that if a Servicemember's concentration of a certain substance is high, that means they used a large amount of the drug in question. This is not necessarily the case. Toxicologists will say that there are many factors at play (what the Servicemember ate, how much they drank, their activity levels, their weight, etc.). Often times, Servicemembers are presumed to be a heavy drug user simply because of higher levels of a certain substance in their urine. This can lead to harsher punishment and presumptions of guilt that are not based in fact or science.
Any Servicemember notified of a positive drug test should immediately consult a military attorney. Drug cut off levels should be examined carefully and it is in a Servicemember's best interest to bring a toxicologist onto the Defense team.
This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry