USAFE bans 'Spice' drug; violators face steep penalties
By Mark Abramson, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting high on substances or drugs that are legal in some European countries and the States can now cost U.S. Air Forces Europe airmen their ranks, their careers, or more.

USAFE commander Gen. Roger Brady issued an order earlier this month banning the use of salvia divinorum, a drug called Spice and some inhalants. A similar ban was issued in the RAF Lakenheath-based 48th Fighter Wing in September, and other Air Force installations, including Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., have like prohibitions.

"I am concerned with reports of military personnel abusing salvia divinorum, inhalants and a mixture of herbs with psychoactive effects commonly known as Spice," Brady said in an Air Force release.

Officials at Yokota Air Base in Japan have also recognized the dangers of those drugs by issuing a warning about Spice and over-the-counter medications.

Salvia divinorum, also known as Sally D and Magic Mint, is an herb native to parts of Mexico. It is chewed or smoked, and its hallucinogenic effects can last up to 30 minutes. Spice is an herb comparable to marijuana.

As for inhalants, the new order bans airmen from sniffing, snorting or huffing household and commercial products such as glues, lighter and cleaning fluids, paint products and medical anesthetics.

Although nobody has been court-martialed in USAFE for any offense related to using salvia and the other drugs under the ban, the order was issued to ensure that USAFE maintains its mission capabilities, said Col. Zeb Pischnotte, the 3rd Air Force’s staff judge advocate.

"We don’t see that we have a problem in USAFE, [Gen. Brady] wanted to give commanders in the field a tool to get ahead of this emerging problem. We are seeing a problem in the States," Pischnotte said.

Sally D also has become a concern in the States, but it has yet to make the list of controlled substances that are banned under federal law, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne. A lot of state legislatures are looking into these drugs or have already taken action, he said.

"We have it on our drugs and chemicals of concern list," Payne said. "Just because it is not illegal and controlled, doesn’t mean it’s safe."

Using Sally D or any of the other drugs may not be punishable under federal laws, but the penalties for any USAFE airman caught using can be quite steep, USAFE officials warned.

The punishment can be as stiff as an dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, two years’ confinement and a reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, Pischnotte said. If someone is caught violating the order, the process of discharging that airman would begin, but depending on the situation he or she could get a waiver to stay in the military, he added.

"[Waivers] do happen, but not very frequently," Pischnotte said.

Air Force officials would not discuss whether, or how, they would test for such substances.

Despite the harsh penalties, Air Force officials urge anyone who needs help battling these drugs to seek help at any of USAFE’s mental health clinics.

The Air Force is spreading the word about the ban in a variety of ways, USAFE public affairs officer 1st Lt. John Griffin said.

"We have a robust communications plan for this," Griffin said.

The communications plan will include spots on American Forces Network, information about the ban in base newspapers and posting it on Air Force Web sites, Griffin said.