Anti-drug testing bill threatens students

If state legislators wrote a bill outlawing a critical remedy to help kids avoid a disease like tuberculosis, there would probably be a major effort to boot every single one of them out of office. Recently, the state Senate did something just as asinine — except the condition in question was drug use by kids, far more prevalent than TB. Bowing to pro-drug interest groups, a bill is making its way to the governor’s desk that would stymie efforts by local schools to test students for drugs. Unlike lawmakers in other states, Sacramento bureaucrats would like to control the way schools drug-test students, making such testing voluntary and placing restrictions on how it is administered.

Drug testing sounds costly, unnecessary, uncompassionate, even unconstitutional. Those who want to legalize and legitimize drug use caricature drug testing as a draconian policy designed to catch kids using drugs and throw them into jail.

It’s time to set the record straight. At a time when drug abuse in California plagues many students, it makes sense to drug-test students as a part a comprehensive drug-prevention program (which includes after-school programs). Since addiction is spread from peer to peer, drug testing gives a student another more credible reason to say “no” when offered drugs by his or her friend.

Unfortunately, the sponsors of Senate Bill 1386 miss the point of random drug testing when they assume that the practice is unnecessary because it is already easy to detect drug use: “You come into class, your eyes are red, you’re falling asleep, and yesterday you weren’t like that,” argues Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who coauthored the bill with Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara.

But drug testing is not meant to catch the kid who “everyone knows” is using drugs. The purpose of testing is to get those kids who have yet to show symptoms of their drug use the help they need before their “recreational fun” turns into dependence or addiction. It’s meant to prevent the scenario described above so that the student and his or her peers don’t have to live with the consequences of their classmate coming to school on drugs.

Drug testing is also not intended to detect drug use for punitive purposes — in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited that in its recent landmark ruling defending random drug tests for kids involved in activities at school. No student goes to jail as a result of a positive drug test. Instead, the family’s privacy is respected and the child is referred to get help to stop his or her use. Consequences entail being denied involvement in sports or other extra curricular activities during the treatment period and until the child tests negative for drugs.

Employing this carrot-and-stick method works. For example: After two years of a drug testing program, Hunterdon Central High School in New Jersey saw significant reductions in 20 of 28 drug use categories, including a drop in cocaine use by seniors from 13 percent to 4 percent. The U.S. military saw drug-use rates drop from 27 percent in 1981 to 3 percent today, thanks to the introduction of random drug testing. Schools like St. Patrick’s High in Chicago are seeing a total change in the culture of education at their school as a result of drug testing.

Compared to other health interventions, drug testing is cheap. It costs roughly $10 to $50 per student, per year. Most parents would gladly pay that small fee in exchange for knowing that their child was safe. In addition, the federal government has proposed $25 million to help school districts offset the costs.

Unfortunately, opponents of random drug tests (many of whom carry mission statements dedicated to legalizing drugs) can claim some victories in our state. Already, schools such as Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp (Calaveras County) have said that they will pull their effective drug testing program if SB1386 passes.

Principals, teachers and parents who employ an effective drug-testing program at school realize it is a valuable tool to deter kids from delving into drug use in the first place and to refer troubled teens to help. Our elected officials should not make that tool harder to use with this misguided legislation.

Source: Kevin A. Sabet. Former chief speechwriter for the Bush administration’s drug czar. A Marshall scholar at Oxford University, Sabet and is writing on book on drug use.

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