Pubdate: Mon, 14 Jun 1999
Source: Herald, The (WA)
Copyright: 1999 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Christopher S. Wren, The New York Times


Private Institutions Defend Practice, But ACLU Condemns It

NEW ORLEANS -- Hair testing to detect illicit drug use, a procedure
already popular with at least 1,000 employers in the United States, is
now being adopted by some schools.

De la Salle High School here, which is affiliated with the Brothers of
the Christian Schools, a Roman Catholic order, began testing the hair
of its 870 students in March 1998 in a pilot program sponsored by
Psychemedics Corp., the leading hair-testing company. Five other
Catholic schools in the New Orleans region have followed suit.

"Our motivation is to provide a good place for kids to learn and
develop," said Yvonne Gelpi, De la Salle's president, "and if you keep
that in focus, it enables you do do the right thing."

Hair testing deters drug use, some teachers say, by giving teen-agers
an excuse to resist peer pressure.

"It's very simple," said Joseph Hines, De la Salle's dean of students.
" 'My school drug-tests me; I can't do it.' "

Yet the federal government, which has set strict standards for urine
testing, has not done so for hair tests because it has yet to be
convinced of their accuracy. And the American Civil Liberties Union
opposes random testing, whether or not someone is suspected of drug

"We're always concerned about testing people who haven't done anything
wrong," said Lewis Maltby, director of the employment rights office of
the ACLU. Hair testing, Maltby said, "is growing fast and that's what
alarms us. The problem is easy to state: It doesn't work. It's not

"It is an invasion of privacy," said Joe Cook, executive director of
the ACLU of Louisiana. "What somebody's done over the last 90 days
without harming anyone is nobody's business."

Private schools can make drug tests a condition of enrollment without
inviting lawsuits. But two public high school principals in New
Orleans now also want to test their students, raising the prospect of
a legal battle with national ramifications.

Harry Connick, the district attorney of Orleans Parish, which includes
New Orleans, argues that hair testing at school is constitutional
because it meets the criteria for protecting health and safety
concerns stemming from drug use.

He said drug tests of school athletes in Oregon and of students
engaged in extracurricular activities in Indiana and Arkansas have
been upheld in court.

Raymond Kubacki Jr., president of Psychemedics, which is based in
Cambridge, Mass., said 80 schools, mostly private, in 26 states were
using Psychemedics to test their students for drugs.

Hair testing is based on the premise that drugs ingested in the body
travel through the bloodstream and are deposited in hair follicles
roughly in proportion to the amount taken. Traces remain in the hair,
disclosing how long the drugs have been used.

"Think of it as rings of a tree," Kubacki said.

The oaboratory can mesure the presence of five drugs; marijuana,
heroin, cocaine, amphetamine and phencyclidine, or PCP.

Government researchers have raised questions about whether drug
molecules bind more to coarser black hair than to finer blond or
brownish hair, creating racial or gender disparities, and whether
passive exposure to marijuana or other smoked drugs could produce a
false positive.

Tom Mieczkowski, a professor of criminology at the University of South
Florida who specializes in the technology of drug testing, said hair
testing was as accurate as urinalysis.

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