The DOD’s Watchdog
By Senior Airman Ashlin Federick, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System
/ Published February 08, 2017
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- With new and emerging drugs coming out every day, the Special Forensic Toxicology Drug Testing Laboratory (SFTDTL) at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System here, is designed to ensure service members are not getting away with gaining access to them.
SFTDTL is one of three Department of Defense laboratories that are certified to test for synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred to as Spice drugs. They use what is called liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry to identify and quantify substances based upon their unique structural and chemical properties. The process gives an exact fingerprint of a substance. It is useful in drug testing laboratories because there is no cross-reactivity with other drugs since every drug has its own unique structure and chemical properties. Hence, only the drug of interest in a solution will be identified and quantified.
U.S. Army Maj. Lynn Wagner, AFMES Division of Forensic Toxicology SFTDTL chief, said the laboratory was stood up in 2011 because of the synthetic cannabinoid explosion that happened around 2008.
“We want to make sure service members are safe and are following the rules,” said Wagner. “This lab was really created to be the ‘canary in the mine’ and alert the Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP) of any sort of highly prevalent drugs that are new and emerging within the military and civilian population.”
SFTDTL has two main missions consisting of the DDRP testing and two surveillance programs. The lab tests service member’s specimens for six different Spice drugs on its regular testing panel.
In the first surveillance program, DOD drug testing laboratories send negative urine samples to SFTDTL for expanded Spice testing. The expanded Spice testing can test for 25 different Spice drugs.
The second surveillance program is a partnership with the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), which collaborates with different drug treatment facilities and hospitals throughout the country and sends the specimens to SFTDTL for testing.
There is a panel of approximately 170 drugs that can be tested to give SFTDTL a snapshot of what the civilian population is taking.
Wagner said the military population, as a whole, only has approximately a one percent positive rate whereas the civilians have around a 25 to 30 percent positive rate.
“For the military we don’t see too much as far as synthetic cannabinoid, synthetic cathinone and opiate abuse like we see with civilians, but whatever the civilians are taking tends to trickle over to the military population,” said Wagner.
Dr. Jeffrey Walterscheid, AFMES Division of Forensic Toxicology chief toxicologist, said that service members think they can smoke Spice and not test positive on a marijuana screen; however, when SFTDTL gets involved they will find out the Spice compound.
“SFTDTL is about creating pressure and the drug demand reduction oversight saying we are watching,” said Walterscheid. “If you think you are going to get away with it, we are on your trail, and we are going to figure it out.”