Pubdate: Fri, 20 Aug 2004
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Kevin A. Sabet
Note: Kevin A. Sabet is the former chief speechwriter for the Bush 
administration's drug czar. A Marshall scholar at Oxford University, Sabet 
is writing on book on drug use.
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


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 
staements 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.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake