|When I addressed an audience of fifth-graders at Beachland Elementary school in February, I was heartened by the response I received. One child wrote, “I learned that drugs are very, very harmful. I know that I’ll never do drugs.” Another penned, “I will make a promise that I will not take drugs. I learned a lot from you.”
But that isn’t the only valuable lesson these students will learn in their educational careers. One of the most important lessons they will inevitably learn involves the adage, “consider the source.”
Readers of Paul Armentano’s April 3 column, “Pull the plug on mandatory student drug testing,” should surely consider the source, since Armentano’s employer, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is a group dedicated to making drugs more available in our communities.
As a physician and public health official, by contrast, I have a duty to protect our communities from drugs. That is why I see student drug testing for what it is: a valuable tool that, when used in the context of broad drug prevention strategy, can deter drug use effectively and create drug-free environments in our schools.
Having visited with students and officials from private and public schools in Indian River County, it is apparent that drug use is a significant issue affecting lives and the learning environment. Indeed, it is a national issue. That is why many states, including Florida, are looking into the possibility of student drug testing for the purpose of deterring drug use and referring troubled teens to help.
The plague of addiction is a paediatric-onset disease that needs a public health response. In much the same way that school tuberculosis tests identify children who are sick and can spread a dangerous disease to other students, student drug testing helps identify kids who have a problem with drugs and prevents the spread of the disease of addiction.
Mr. Armentano opens his charge sheet against student drug testing by pointing to a widely publicized University of Michigan study showing little effect from student drug testing. That survey, however, was conducted in schools with different drug testing techniques ( i.e., drug testing for cause ) than those being proposed now ( i.e., random drug testing ).
Not only did the study cover a period ( 1998-2001 ) before the kind of testing allowed by the Supreme Court in 2002, but also the lead researcher himself declared, “One could imagine situations where drug testing could be effective testing kids and doing it frequently. We’re not in a position to say that wouldn’t work.
” Drug testing has proven remarkably effective at reducing drug use in American schools and businesses. As a deterrent, few methods work better or deliver clearer results. Drug testing of airline pilots and school bus drivers, for example, has made our skies and roadways much safer for travel. Schools are also safer with drug testing.
According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, a school in Oregon that randomly drug tested student athletes had a rate of drug use that was one-quarter that of a comparable school with no drug testing policy. After two years of a drug testing program, Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey saw significant reductions in 20 of 28 drug use categories, including a drop in cocaine usage rates of seniors from 13 percent to 4 percent.
Additionally, the United States military saw drug use rates drop from 27 percent in 1981 to 3 percent today, thanks to the introduction of a random drug-testing program. Random drug testing of students in extracurricular activities is effective because it demonstrates that the community has set a serious standard for its youth. In addition to creating a culture of disapproval toward drugs in the communities where it is employed, student drug testing achieves three public health goals:
* It deters children from initiating drug use.
* It identifies children who have just started using drugs so that parents and counselors can intervene early.
* It helps identify children who have a dependency on drugs so that they can be referred to effective drug treatment. These are outcomes we cannot afford to pass up. I hope that officials in Vero Beach want to provide their children every available resource possible to resist the temptation of using drugs. As one student wrote to me, “I learned that you should say no to drugs even if your friends do drugs.”
Experience shows us, however, that the decision to say no can often be a difficult one for a child to make. We owe it to our children to help them make that decision by implementing proven tools like drug testing in our schools.
Source: Author Andrea Barthwell published in Press Journal (Vero Beach, FL) Sat, 17 Apr 2004