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Random drug testing for middle schoolers?

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jan 11, 2017 - 9:52:14 AM

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Drug overdoses are a major problem all across the country.  In Kentucky, like many other states, overdose deaths rose compared with previous years.  To combat this rise, the Casey County Board of Education approved random drug testing of middle school fifth and six graders starting with the 2017-2018 school year.

“We propose to randomly drug test 10, fifth-and sixth-grade students three times per year, at the same time we are drug testing teachers in each school. Fifth-and sixth-grade students participate in Casey County Middle School extra-curricular activities,” Eric Hughes, pastor of Liberty United Methodist Church and a volunteer with the Casey County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP), told the Casey County News.

“At present, there are middle school students that participate in high school athletics that are not included in drug testing. At present, there are 60 plus fifth-and sixth-graders that play middle school sports and participate in extra-curricular activities such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and band.” The board of education approved the measure at their November meeting.

The Lexington Herald Leader explained that the proposal to randomly test students in extra-curricular activities in the county’s five schools will be submitted to the Kentucky School Boards Association for review of the wording, and there would be two more readings of the proposal at the January and February Casey County Board of Education meetings.

“We’re trying to figure out how to prevent some of the issues we have in our community with drug abuse,” said Casey County school board member Marilyn Coffey to the media.

Some may think drug testing middle schoolers is unnecessary, ‘they are too young, too inexperienced’. 

“In the last two years, we’ve had a number of overdoses taking place with middle school students,” said Mr. Hughes to the Lexington Herald Leader.

Casey County, population 15,808 had 11 drug overdoses between 2012 and 2015.  The school board’s proposal would randomly drug test 10 fifth- and sixth-grade students three times per year, at the same time teachers were drug tested.

This district would not be the first to randomly drug test middle schoolers.  Thirteen school districts in Kentucky include middle school students — sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders—in their drug screening process.  Bath County is the only one that tests fifth graders. Other school districts in other parts of the country have also implemented drug testing. “Random drug-testing of middle-schoolers—with penalties—has become a reality for a school district in New Jersey that already does so with high school students,” reports The Free Thought Project. The decision was approved after that city’s school board voted August 15 and is optional not mandatory for students.

As of May 2008, it is estimated that a minimum of 16.5 percent of U.S. school districts have adopted/implemented student random illicit drug testing programs. This represents about 2,000 U. S. school districts, notes

The 2015 Combined Annual Report Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy explained that, “A growing number of young people who began abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy.”

“The reason may come down to basic economics: illegally obtained prescription pain killers have become more expensive and harder to get, while the price and difficulty in obtaining heroin have decreased. An 80 mg OxyContin pill runs between $60 to $100 on the street. Heroin costs about $9 a dose. Even among heavy heroin abusers, a day’s worth of the drug is cheaper than a couple hits of Oxy.”

According to the report, overall, fatal overdoses totaled 1,248 in 2015, compared to 1,071 in 2014. Heroin was detected in 28 percent of cases, consistent with the previous year. However, as a total, heroin-related deaths increased in 2015, largely because the drug is being laced with fentanyl.

The random drug testing in Kentucky will be focused on deterrence and not for punitive measures.  The Casey County News explained that the Casey County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) requested the wording in the current school policy be updated to include “completion of a chemical dependency assessment on the student as a first violation consequence.” Currently, it’s a consequence in the second violation, with the student being required to enroll in a prevention/counseling program. The policy will provide $5,000 for prevention and counseling services to students on campus, through a licensed, qualified, therapist.

“The sooner that we can talk to students ... the possibility is better that we can have a greater effect on curbing drug use,” said Mr. Hughes.