For years, the Air Force has given airmen drug tests to make sure the only thing getting them high are airplanes. Now the base at Ellsworth has started testing for synthetic drugs, too.
"There are going to be, just like in any organization, individuals who make bad choices. And sometimes the choice that they make is to use synthetic drugs," Ellsworth's Deputy Staff Judge Advocate Maj. Chris Baker said.
"Prescribed medications became very popular to abuse for a while. And now spice is becoming more popular so we see a little bit of that," Drug Demand Reduction Program Manager Shelley Satterlee said.
The Air Force started testing for synthetic drugs within the past few months to make sure Ellsworth's airmen are at peak mental and physical condition.
"Recently we've done unit sweeps where the entire unit is called in and everybody gets a test. In that case we actually tested them for synthetics and all the other drugs that are typically abused," Satterlee said.
Over the past five years, the Air Force has disciplined nearly 750 airmen for using, possessing, or distributing synthetic drugs. And at Ellsworth, the numbers are low.
"We've tried two individuals by court martial and nine individuals have been offered and accepted non-judicial punishment under Article 15," Baker said.
The penalties can be stiff, ranging from a demotion in rank to as many as 15 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. But the vast majority of Air Force personnel steer clear of the drugs and leave the high to the pilots.
"We need to be able to go at a moment's notice. We need to be able to follow the orders of those appointed over us. And when someone's using drugs they're not able to do that," Baker said.
Even before the state ban on synthetics, the military had a policy prohibiting using or possessing the drugs.