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Let's Just Say No To Random Drug Testing


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Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Author: Andy Parker
Published: Monday, May 16, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Oregonian
Contact: [email protected]

If your children play soccer or baseball or even chess at school, maybe we should have them urinate into a cup or cut off some of their hair and ship it off to the lab.

It's your choice. But drug-testing your kid is a good thing, a reasonable, effective way to show them you care about them, to discourage them from experimenting with drugs.

That was the message President Bush's deputy drug czar delivered last week to about 60 Northwest educators and nonprofit leaders assembled at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas.

As is typical with the Bush administration, there was no push to encourage the public to attend the event. They didn't want a debate; they wanted to get their message out and get out of town.

They left behind a bunch of glossy pamphlets filled with charts and glowing testimonials about drug testing.

There's the Alabama school district where kids who test negative for drugs get discounts from local businesses.

There's the Indiana high school senior congratulating his school's drug-testing program as something that "embraces accountability rather than the gross indulgences of personal freedoms that previous generations have embraced."

There's the story of how Chicago's oldest Catholic high school for boys has been drug-testing students for five years. "We pull 10 to 15 kids (at a time) for hair testing," said Joseph Schmidt, the school principal. "We snip an inch and half of hair, which tells us if they have used drugs in the past 90 days."

The Bush administration is careful to say drug-testing is best used as part of a broad plan to reduce drug use. And drug-testing, it says, is a local choice.

But it emphasizes: If you're interested, the federal tax dollars are there.

School officials in Canby, Estacada, Gladstone, North Clackamas and Oregon City say they're not interested. But already, a handful of Oregon school districts do randomly test students for drugs, as do many across the nation.

Researchers at the University of Michigan -- who in 2003 conducted the nation's first large-scale study of the effectiveness of drug testing -- found that 19 percent of public schools engaged in some form of student drug testing.

And they found not a shred of evidence that drug testing teens has any impact at all on reducing drug use.

The local school officials I spoke with all said they believe in giving drug and breathalyzer tests only for cause -- when reasonable evidence has been presented that a student is using or carrying drugs or alcohol. That makes sense.

Max Margolis attended the Bush administration summit on drug-testing. He's the director of Oregon Partnerships' Youthlink, a drug and alcohol prevention program.

He made it clear that his opinions of the Bush plan were his own, not those of his employer.

Margolis said putting more federal money into drug testing leaves less for the programs that are supposed to help the students who test positive. "The whole thing is under the pretense of having all these services to redirect kids if they have a positive drug test. And the programs just aren't there."

Margolis doesn't understand the logic of the Bush administration pushing $25 million at schools for drug testing while at the same time yanking $25 million from efforts to enforce underage drinking laws.

In the long run, Margolis says, there are much more effective ways than drug testing to keep your child from abusing substances.

"Have regular discussions with your kids.

"Set an example that includes responsible use of alcohol.

"Make sure they're involved in a variety of healthy activities.

"Know who their friends are.

"Have dinner with them, every night."

It's hard for your kids to routinely abuse any substance, says Margolis, "when they have to sit down and look you in the eye every night."

Of course, it's a lot easier just to take a snip of their hair every three months.

Andy Parker's columns appear Mondays and Wednesdays.

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