Send to

Mandatory military drug testing bill nears parliament vote

Nov. 2, 2023 - 15:34 By Moon Ki Hoon
Military conscripts undergo a physical examination at the Gyeonggi Regional Military Manpower Administration in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, February. (Newsis)

In South Korea, where all able-bodied men are required to serve in the military, a new measure will soon require all enlistees to undergo drug testing during physical exams.

On Thursday, the National Defense Committee, a parliamentary subcommittee overseeing military affairs, approved a bill mandating drug tests for all new service members.

The bill will now head to the full parliament for a vote, pending judiciary committee review.

Until now, the South Korean military conducted drug tests selectively, focusing on individuals who either confessed to illicit drug use or were flagged by health inspectors. The new bill would subject all applicants to drug testing during pre-enlistment health checks -- both conscripted individuals and voluntary recruits aiming for commissioned ranks.

Individuals testing positive must provide a second urine sample for further testing, with the second positive result leading to a police investigation.

Depending on the investigation's outcome, individuals sentenced to less than 18 months of imprisonment are reassigned to an alternative non-military service role, while those facing longer sentences are immediately dismissed.

Individuals found to be using drugs as a deliberate tactic to evade military service will be kept in service, however.

Along with the bill, the National Defense Committee authorized a separate piece of legislation granting the Defense Minister the authority to administer drug tests on active-duty personnel, potentially subjecting the country’s 480,000 service members to random drug screenings without prior notice.

The enhanced vetting process highlights South Korean military’s zero-tolerance stance on drug use as it continues to witness a rise in drug-related crimes within its ranks.

In South Korea, the number of drug offenses among active-duty military personnel rose from 10 cases in 2018 to a record-high 33 in 2022. This year's numbers are on pace to exceed last year’s record, with 26 cases recorded from January to August alone.

In September, a conscripted soldier was charged with using methamphetamine during his leave. In another high-profile case in April, authorities found cannabis stashed in lockers at an army base in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province. The marijuana had been reportedly delivered through mail concealed in food packages and were being shared by the soldiers in the barracks, according to law enforcement officials.