Wednesday, July 27, 2005

 

A Big Non-Problem

Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette notes some blatant misreporting in the London Daily Telegraph (scroll down). Greyhawk reports the Telegraph headline:
Stressed US Troops In Iraq 'Turning To Drugs'
Two years into the occupation of Iraq the menace of drug abuse appears to be afflicting American troops.
This kind of sloppy reporting really bothers me, beyond the obvious phony analogy to Vietnam era problems, symptomatic of poor morale and discipline from demoralized soldiers in an unpopular war. No, what bothers me is that any simpleton could contrast the rates of occurrence against (any) population and realize drug and alcohol abuse by soldiers is actually dramatically lower than for non-military populations.

As Greyhawk notes, in the US population as a whole:
An estimated 17.6 million American adults (8.5 percent) meet standard diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder and approximately 4.2 million (2 percent) meet criteria for a drug use disorder. Overall, about one-tenth (9.4 percent) of American adults, or 19.4 million persons, meet clinical criteria for a substance use disorder -- either an alcohol or drug use disorder or both -- according to results from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) reported in the current Archives of General Psychiatry [Volume 61, August 2004: 807-816].

Note that the figures are estimates of numbers of people with use disorder, not one time, casual users. We'd expect that number to be higher.
And despite that the Telegraph in its own reporting notes that "out of the 4,000 men of the 256th Brigade Combat Team, only 53 faced alcohol-related charges and 48 were charged with drug offences" (according to US army figures). And without reporting statistics at multiple points in time, how does the Telegraph justify the scare headline that soldiers are "turning to drugs," which certainly implies an increase even if technically it doesn't necessarily say that.

Why are they so careless with their conclusions? Because they want the story first, then pounce on even the smallest amount of data points to "back it up."

Greyhawk, based on the actual data presented by the Telegraph, reaches the proper conclusion:
Still one thing seems certain - drug and alcohol problems aren't rampant among troops in Iraq.
As a First Sergeant for a National Guard Unit in Iraq, I deal first hand with any such infractions that may occur. Thus far, 7 months in, 200 soldiers, not a single incident, neither drug nor alcohol use, both expressly prohibited by General Orders.

Many of my soldiers know how to make beer, wine and other forms of alcohol; stateside they used to joke about setting up stills, faced with a complete prohibition on alcohol within Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). That's the kind of jokes soldiers make when they know, in the end, they'll follow orders or do some serious jail time or rank & pay reductions. Not once have I smelled alcohol, we do health & welfare inspections monthly, leaders live among their troops, there is just no way this is going on in our unit. And some of these guys knew how.

At Debate Space, the now dormant joint debate blog I started with The Liberal Avenger, I explained to LA the reasons we don't have these problems:
The security threat is high, thereby screening procedures include canine units, open container searches, and other technology based procedures.

Given what my soldiers have seen as the consequences for drug use, I think they would be pretty reluctant to get caught. (And anyone who knew or found out would talk about it, and eventually someone not your friend would find out.)
I also pointed out that we conduct regular, unit level random urinalysis in such a way that the soldiers never know if their turn is due until right before they are screened.

As I said then, I'll say again, we have not had anyone piss hot since prior to mobilization. Not here. Not now. Maybe it's because it could really get you killed here.

(Linked as Covered Dish at Basil's Blog)



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