Sunday, November 16, 2008

White House pushes for local schools to drug test students

By Jill Bryce (Contact)
Gazette Reporter
dailygazette.com

— The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is hoping to convince local school districts and educators to randomly drug test students.

It's a movement that is sweeping the country and gaining support in many states, and advocates say it provides students a "credible reason to say no to drug use."

David Murray, chief scientist for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a summit today at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany that random drug testing achieves a healthier and more productive school environment. He also said it's a powerful prevention and intervention tool for schools.

Murray said it is a misconception is that it's a way to punish students who use drugs.

"This is non-punitive. We are doing it to identify students who need help,' said Murray.

In fact, Murray said, it's a way to prevent adolescents from using drugs in the first place. He said substance abuse leads to violence, school failure, sexually abusive behavior, disrupts classrooms and is self-destructive.

"It's crucial to address drug use among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18," said Murray. "The earlier drug use starts, the deeper the dependence on the drug later in life."

About 100 people attended the summit, including representatives from several local school districts, including Albany and North Colonie, as well as educators from the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.

Opponents, including the Drug Policy Alliance, voiced concern and said studies have shown that drug testing is ineffective in deterring drug use.

"Drug testing breaks down relationships of trust," said Jennifer Kern, youth policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Kern said all credible research on substance abuse prevention points to eliminating sources of alienation and conflict between young people, their parents and schools, not creating them.

Other opponents say random drug testing is a violation of an individual's personal rights. Murray said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that drug testing is not a violation but must be done confidentially.

More than 4,000 schools in the country have already begun their own random testing program.

Murray said the outcome of the presidential election will not have much affect on the push for student drug testing.

"My impression is that this is a movement that has lifted above partisanship," he said.

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