ASAP works to prevent substance use disorders

Cynthia Hawkins (left), Army Substance Abuse Program manager, discusses prevention efforts with ASAP colleagues Heather McNany and Samson Robinson. (Photo by Michael D. Williams)

Samson Robinson, the prevention coordinator at Fort Meade’s Army Substance Abuse Program, leads a drug abuse prevention training called “Chasing the Dragon.”

“It’s about getting that one high and after that, you’re always chasing that same high,” Robinson said. “You’re chasing the dragon.”

Robinson said the “dragon” is usually an opioid — most popularly, heroin.

“Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects,” he said. “Medically, they are primarily used for pain relief.”

The training emphasizes the dangers of opioids, the biological factors that make some people susceptible to addiction and how to get help.

Drug abuse prevention training is just one of the services provided by ASAP.

Resiliency and the force

ASAP specializes in efforts to prevent substance use disorders and suicide, and provides counseling for adult living issues and life stressors among active-duty service members, DoD civilian employees, retirees and their dependents.

Cynthia Hawkins is the ASAP program manager. She leads a five-member team that includes Robinson; Heather McNany, the new Suicide Prevention Program manager and risk reduction coordinator; Shannon Woods, drug testing coordinator; Patricia Sequella, drug testing technician; and William Lennon, the Employee Assistance Program manager.

McNany started her new position on July 10. She replaces Torrie Osterholm, who is leaving ASAP in August to work as a licensed social worker specializing in trauma medicine at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

In addition to her duties as the ASAP program manager, Hawkins is also Fort Meade’s Community Readiness and Resiliency integrator.

She works with Fort Meade’s Community Health and Promotion Team in tracking risk factors within the Fort Meade community that may impact its ability to meet the Army’s mission. The council provides recommendations and enacts strategies to combat these risk factors.

Hawkins facilitates the Community Health Promotion Council quarterly, along with Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard and Col. Daniel Bonnischsen, commander of Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center and U.S. Army Medial Department Activity. They report to Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters, National Capital Region, Military District of Washington.

ASAP provides several key services in preventing substance abuse including military and civilian drug testing, risk reduction inventory, prevention and education training, and employee assistance counseling.

Unit commanders are required to conduct random testing on 10 percent of their unit’s strength each month. The Department of the Army provides a list of service members who are to be tested. ASAP culls that list and lets commanders know which Soldiers are to be tested.

Last April, the secretary of the Army established that all Soldiers are to undergo random drug testing at least once a year. If a Soldier was not randomly tested during the first three quarters, the commander must ensure that the Soldier is tested during the last quarter. This way the Army directive is adhered to.

Mitigating risk factors

DoD civilians who are in a testing designated position are also randomly tested. The Civilian Personnel Office provides ASAP with the list of civilians who fall into this category. Fifty percent of the personnel are randomly selected each year to meet the 100 percent requirement within two years. Once the computer program generates the names of the personnel selected, ASAP informs their program manager.

The risk reduction program provides the commander with a tool, an anonymous risk reduction survey called the Unit Risk Inventory. The URI asks a wide range of questions about important risk factors such as suicide ideation, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence and child abuse.

The tool allows commanders to get a picture of what is going on in their units and allows them to bring in subject matter experts who can help mitigate high-risk behaviors identified through the survey.

McNany said the survey “shows us in a bull’s-eye” how Soldiers are coping with their life in and outside the unit.

She reviews the survey’s findings and reports them to unit commanders.

Robinson provides prevention and education training on substance abuse topics such as prescription medications and responsbile drinking and driving.

Commanders can request a training session for their unit. Robinson also conducts garrison-wide trainings at McGill Training Center and the Post Theater.

ASAP will have a display table at National Night Out on Tuesday at McGlachlin Parade Field to provide information on the dangers of substance use disorders.

Robinson said he will focus his efforts on the teenagers attending the event.

“This is another opportunity for my belief of ‘each one can reach one,’ ” he said.

The Employee Assistance Program helps DoD civilians manage life challenges such as substance use disorders, financial difficulties and martial problems.

Lennon provides confidential short-term counseling in four to six sessions for DoD civilians, retirees and their dependents.

If clients require additional counseling, they are referred to community-based providers.

DoD civilians who do not pass their drug tests are required to undergo counseling through EAP in order to maintain employment.

“Our goal is keep the force ready and resilient,” Hawkins said.

That goal includes the ability to be productive in the workplace.

“If service members and civilians are under the influence of any substance, they can’t do their work,” Robinson said. “They’re not ready or able.”

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