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Drug Testing News

Pewaukee School District Ready To Drug Test Students

Pewaukee School District - After sitting in on a conference call Sept. 16 with 25 school districts from around the country on the topic of drug testing in schools, Pewaukee school officials agreed they are going to move slowly and with moderation.

School leaders received a lot of information during the National School Board Association (NSBA) phone conference with some of the leading drug experts in the nation.

But the issue of possible mandatory drug testing for all students remains a complex and controversial topic that would take the backing of the community to implement.

"I know I don't know enough to decide today," School Board member Chris Durski said following the conference.

"I think we are taking our time and researching it thoroughly," said Superintendent JoAnn Sternke. "We're getting a good amount of community input - have done so and are continuing to do so. That's an important part of the process to me."

At this point, it's difficult for schools to find out about student drug use, Sternke said. Often, knowledge that students are using drugs comes from students talking at school, and the school has no reliable information.

Drug testing would provide that information. "I'm not certain yet if I feel that this is the best system to get that information," Sternke said. While testing would provide reliable information, it is also invasive and intensive. "I'm trying to find that middle ground, but I don't know where that is."

Earlier this year, the district surveyed parents to find out if they considered drug use among students to be a significant problem, and whether they would support a testing program for students in extracurricular activities.

Based on the results of that survey, the district formed a committee of school personnel and community members to investigate a sample policy and the costs and other issues involved with a testing program, before the district decides whether to move forward with such a program.

Although the conference call was informative, Durski wondered if there weren't hidden agendas at work.

"I think someone has $8 million they want to spread around, someone else thinks you can't be permissive and someone else is running for public office," Durski said.

But drug use is an area fraught with frustration and educators across the nation are searching for effective ways to deter it.

Durski said she found it discouraging that the rate of drug use seemed to point to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program as ineffective.

"I felt that DARE was a strong program for deterrence, which is not the message I thought I heard them say," Durski said.

Drug testing, school officials learned, is not necessarily intended to be punitive. Often, it can give counselors and educators information and can make saying "no" easier for nondrug users.

"There were some things that gave me more to think about - particularly, I guess, in the way she explained about the importance of early detection in terms of school climate," Sternke said.

"It's not just a deterrent for those students, but as a preventative for recruiting other users. It's something I hadn't thought about," Sternke said. "If there's early detection of that person, it (drug usage) may not get to other people."

During the conference call, the panelists explained that the Supreme Court had opened the door to mandatory drug testing schoolwide, but the ruling was not clear and that has left districts wondering how far they can go.

"It's significant to understand that this is not set up to be punitive," added Judge Eric Andell, deputy undersecretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education, a panelist for the discussion.

The two other panelists were Dr. Andrea G. Bartwell, fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and deputy director for demand reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy; and Scott M. Burns, deputy director for the Office of State and Local Affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"The No Child Left Behind act, in order to work, requires a safe, nurturing environment to learn," Andell said, pointing out that academic success is linked to a safe environment.

"That includes a drug-free school," Andell said. "That also includes drug-free students that are "capable of learning and doing exceptionally well on the academics we ask them to achieve. That's why the courts have allowed schools to test certain students."

Right now, many testing programs focus on random tests for students in sports and other extracurricular activities.

"The White House thinks we should test them all (students)," Burns said, pointing out that while the Supreme Court did not mention all categories of students, the ruling has not really been challenged.

But the problem remains. According to 2002 survey information, 19.5 million people in the United States are using or have used drugs.

"Of that 19.5 million, 14.6 million are using marijuana, but it's not the 1 percent ditchweed of 20 years ago," Burns said, pointing out that marijuana has gotten more potent over the years.

"Unlike 20 to 30 years ago when initiation was 17 to 18-years-old, now it's 13, 12, 11-years-old," Burns said. He also said that of the 19.5 million total, 567,000 use crack cocaine, 1.2 million use hallucinogens and 6.2 million use psychotherapeutic drugs.

Another statistic from Barthwell is that one out of every two students graduating has experimented with an illicit substance.

"Drug use changes the brain, sometimes in long-lasting and Total Body ways. And certain drugs prime users for using other drugs," Barthwell said. Besides potential damage to the brain, drug use can cause lung and liver damage or users can overdose and even die.

"The marijuana of today we know is potent enough, in itself, to change the direction of a child's life," Barthwell said. Drug use and addiction can start at a young age.

Barthwell advocated drug testing as a tool to deter student drug use, which she referred to as a disease.

"An individual is less likely to use or experiment (with drugs) if there is a clear, recognizable line placed on their behavior," Barthwell said. Part of that line is responsible adults in a community expecting and defining responsible behavior of children. For some people, legal prohibition is enough to prevent drug involvement.

Drug testing programs in schools that refer students to counseling and treatment can keep students out of the criminal justice system. Students would be required to undergo treatment or be excluded from extracurricular activities, Burns said.

When discouragement does not deter someone from using drugs, identification and treatment can.

"We know that new users recruit new users because they want to share this (new experience). They also want to normalize their behavior," Barthwell said.

However, when students know that they could be randomly selected to take a drug test, it acts as a deterrent to beginning experimentation with drugs.

The earlier drug use is detected, the easier it is to treat, Barthwell said. "It's easier to help re-establish a nondrug-using norm in their life, before they can recruit peers."

Current tests for drug use include tests of blood, urine, saliva, sweat and hair. Tests can look for a variety of drugs, including marijuana, PCP and amphetamines.

"Blood is invasive and it's expensive to run a test on blood," Barthwell said. However, it is accurate.

"Urine is accurate and can be used as a confirmation test," Barthwell said. One drawback is that the concentration of an illicit substance in the sample depends on how hydrated the student is when the sample is given.

Saliva is easy to collect, but not all the drugs that a school might want to test for can be tested for in saliva.

Testing sweat is noninvasive and requires a student to wear a patch for a length of time. However, impairment can't be measured and the patch could always be removed.

"For hair, the drug is deposited in the growing hair, but there are few commercially available products for (testing)," Barthwell said. A specialized test is required and the cost is higher.

Cost for testing can range from $8 for urine to $60 for hair.

Through the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, grant money is available for schools instituting testing programs, Andell said, under which schools could get approximately $6 per student toward testing.

In addition to regular Safe and Drug-Free School money, for 2003-04, $2 million has been set aside for testing program grants. Although not yet approved, the office has budgeted $8 million for the grants for the 2005 budget.

While there is currently little data on the effects drug-testing programs have on student drug use, a school in New Jersey that has begun such programs experienced a 25 percent decrease in students using drugs, according to Burns.

Also, random drug testing programs in the United States military and the transportation industry have decreased drug use among their personnel.

As moderator of the conference, Julie Underwood, associate executive director and general counsel for the NSBA, asked about drug abuse prevention programs in school curriculum and their relation to drug testing.

According to Barthwell, the value of a drug-abuse prevention curriculum comes in the form of teaching pre-adolescent students "the rules" against drug use at a time when they haven't yet fully developed thinking skills.

Andell believed drug-testing programs and drug-abuse prevention curriculum would mix well.

"As a juvenile court judge, people would ask me about boot camp and military schools," Andell said. "I would like to have a big old grab bag to pull out what I need when I need it. For a school district, it's nice to have this (drug testing) in the grab bag."

The possibility of being selected in a random drug test also becomes "just another tool for kids to decline drugs to respond to peer pressure," Burns said.

Andell pointed out that the first step in any type of program to combat drug use for a school district is to have the support of parents and the community and their disapproval of drug use.

"All students are exposed to some level of risk of experimenting with drugs. The risk varies and depends on knowing someone or seeing someone use drugs," Barthwell said.

She advocated getting members of the community together to help identify what level of risk the community is dealing with and how well the community is dealing with protection and making a decision about whether that protection is strong enough.

In some communities, voluntary student drug testing programs have been created through the consent of students and their parents.

"Having parent permission is one way you can compete for the (grant) money," Andell said in answer to a question from a school superintendent in New Jersey.

According to Burns, there is an obligation to help students live a productive life and to help prevent the onset of disease, such as drug use, whether it is an obligation from parents or from school and government.

"Not every family is the perfect family on television," Burns said.

Barthwell also pointed out that with one out of two graduating students having experimented with drugs, drug use is not tied to social or economic factors.

Underwood wondered if random drug testing for students involved in extracurricular activities deterred students from participating.

Andell said the only evidence he was aware of was anecdotal.

"Someone dependent on drugs won't be deterred and often they have already dropped out of activities," Barthwell said.