Random drug tests for students?

Hawai‘i Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona thinks the timing is perfect for a random student drug testing summit.

“The fact that you had real live discussion on drug testing for teachers and staff and administrators makes it better in regards to actually getting a program implemented in the schools,” Aiona said yesterday about the recent, national discussion on testing high school students for drugs.

A random student drug testing summit begins today in Honolulu.

Deputy “Drug Czar” Bertha Madras of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Aiona will address school officials and community leaders at the summit.

Madras said yesterday that she is here because there are indications that people are interested in random student drug testing programs and because Hawai‘i has a significant drug problem.

“The summit’s purpose is to educate people on how to do a student drug testing program, how to get community support, how to determine legal issues and how to apply for grants from the federal government if they wish to do it,” Madras said.

Madras cites a number of school-by-school reports that provide evidence of the effectiveness of drug testing programs in preventing drug use.

Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., saw a decrease in drug use in 20 of 28 categories based on a student survey.

A survey of 85 percent of school principals in Indiana showed the number of students suspended or expelled due to drug or alcohol related incidents dropped from 518 to 352 after random student drug testing programs were implemented.

In Polk County Florida, a survey of students participating in extracurricular activities asking about marijuana use over the past 30 days went from 19.5 percent to 11.8 percent after a student drug testing program was implemented.

Hilton Head Prep School in South Carolina showed 2 percent drug use afterwards. The national average is 20 percent. The difference is credited to student drug testing.

“I’ve always been an advocate (of a random student drug testing program),” Aiona said.

He said he has always told people inquiring about student drug testing that he would provide the leadership if they would be there to support it.

“So far, I haven’t gotten that type of support,” Aiona said.

The greatest barrier, Aiona said, is the Board of Education’s failure to adopt a clear policy on drug testing programs as they did for drug sniffing dogs.

Another barrier is the vocal minority who oppose student drug testing on issues of privacy and trust.

“You couldn’t have a program without addressing the privacy issue, which defuses the argument on the privacy side,” Aiona said.

He feels trust is an emotional argument. “Children should trust that their parents are going to give them the best education they can and put them in a nice, safe environment,” Aiona said. “And that’s what this program is trying to do.”

Madras said that there is no such thing as a “false positive” report, a fear some have expressed over testing positive despite not using drugs.

Initial testing is done at the school level, Madras said. There is an error rate of 2 percent, but any positive and questionable, or “non-negative” results, are sent to a lab for confirmation.

“If the lab says it’s positive, it’s 100 percent,” said Madras.

She also explained that confidentiality means that results will not be shared with the police, other schools, colleges or employers. The results remain in the student’s confidential records.

“The only people who are told are the parents, counselor and student,” Madras said.

The number of students who test positive is not very high, officials say.

“Once students know they are going to be tested, few are willing to risk being tested positive because they don’t want parents to know,” Madras said. “The whole purpose of random student drug testing is that it is a form of prevention.”

Federally funded programs are required to have support systems in place to help those students who do test positive.

A speaker at the conference will present information on how communities can get assistance in putting support programs in place.

Madras said that once a community has identified a drug problem, discussion regarding a random student drug testing program should take place without worrying about privacy rights and trust issues.

“Those issues are minor compared with a child becoming addicted or getting involved in a car accident, or getting an overdose. (Privacy rights and trust issues) are relatively unimportant when weighed against what drugs can do to an individual,” Madras said.

Aiona is a high school basketball coach. He said he sees how vulnerable his student athletes are to being influenced by peers and movies.

He doesn’t see a huge drug problem, but he is concerned about the “gateway drugs” — alcohol and marijuana.

He lists the benefits of a good random student drug testing program as providing a tool for parents, facilitating discussion with parents and children about drugs and alcohol, and shifting the burden, if there is a problem, to the family.

Once a community decides that a random student drug testing program is a good tool for them, the community has to decide whether to apply for federal funding or to raise money within the community.

“It doesn’t cost much money,” Madras said.

The average cost per school is under $3,000.

For Waimea High School Principal Bill Arakaki, the summit will be an opportunity to learn. He is traveling to the summit from Kaua‘i. Arakaki has been instrumental in organizing Safe and Drug Free School conferences on Kaua‘i for students.

He and Kaua‘i High School Principal Linda L. T. Smith will be attending today’s conference to find out what is happening nationally with the issue of random student drug testing.

The county of Kaua‘i will hold its own drug summit on Friday.

“(The Kaua‘i Drug Summit) is a celebration of people coming together in fighting the (drug) epidemic,” said Theresa Koki, the county’s anti-drug coordinator.

Friday’s event marks the county’s third drug summit.

In addition to recognizing the work of Kaua‘i volunteers and agencies who have taken on the task of fighting the drug problem, the five-year Drug Response Plan for Kaua‘i County will be reviewed at the Kaua‘i summit.

“We have to keep at it. Trends keep changing. We have to keep on top of it,” said Koki.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com.

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