A sea of specimen bottles has temporarily jammed the Navy's campaign to catch sailors who use illegal drugs. Even though Navy lab technicians in Norfolk have been working around the clock, they have been unable to keep up with demands from the testing program, which sends the labs as many as 7,000 urine samples per month, a spokesman said.
As a result, the Navy has decided to discard samples that are more than 60 days old and screen only three out of every 10 recruits. When the Navy announced its drug crackdown last year it said every recruit would be checked within 48 hours after joining the service. The Navy also has told the Army and Air Force that they will no longer be able to use Navy labs for the drug testing.
Atlantic Fleet officials would not say how much of a backlog exists at the labs, but they said their goal is to establish a 10-day maximum testing time in October and a five-day time in November.
As of April, 4,800 Atlantic Fleet sailors have been identified as drug users. Of those, 3,600 were punished by fines or extra duty, 218 were court-martialed and 258 were discharged, the Navy said. --Pete Earley and Felicity Barringer