Congress investigates military drug use in wake of USS Nimitz accident

A congressman's claim that traces of drugs were found in the bodies of some Navy crewmen killed May 26 on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has touched off a new round of concern about drug use in the armed forces.

Navy Secretary John Lehman Jr. vigorously denied this week that drugs had anything to do with the accident in which an EA- 6B jet missed the landing deck and 14 servicemen were killed.

"I hope they're right," says US Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D) of New York. "The information we received raised questions." Mr. Addabbo, who disclosed the alleged drug findings, has slated a hearing for June 18 to probe the Nimitz accident.

No drugs have been found in the bodies of the Marines who were on board the jet. The Navy said that whether traces of drugs were found in the bodies of 10 crew members on the flight deck "is still under investigation."

"I have personal knowledge of flight deck operations," Secretary Lehman wrote to Rep. Abbaddo, "and I can tell you that these crews are well supervised, superbly trained. . . . If an individual does not appear able to perform his duties in a professional manner, his supervisors will remove him from the flight deck immediately."

Congress has long been concerned about how drug abuse could affect military readiness. The Addabbo subcommittee began an investigation into the subject last January. A report is due next fall.

A Defense Department study made last year shows clearly that drugs are a major problem in the armed forces. The study found that in the lower ranks of the military, one-fifth had "work impairment" because of drug use. The most common problem cited was "high while working."

Navy and Marine enlisted men are by far the heaviest drug users, according to the study. The Air Force showed the cleanest record -- only 8 percent reported being "high" while working. In the Navy and Marines, about 60 percent of the lower ranks reported using some form of drug.

A special task force under the House Select Committee on Narcotics, meanwhile , plans to travel to Europe next week to follow up on a drug survey it made of US soldiers three years ago.

The most common drug in the armed forces is alcohol, according to the Defense Department study. More than one-third of the Navy enlisted men and 32 percent of the Marines admitted to "lowered work performance" because of alcohol.

Marijuana appears to be the most commonly used illicit drug. Some use of hallucinogens and cocaine and very little use of hard drugs such as her oin is reported.

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