- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
‘What we’re doing now is not working’
By NICOLE CLARK
As a parent, you don’t want to recognize the signs. “It’s hard to face that your child is using drugs,” said Emily Harman, a member of a local grassroots group, called Parents Affected By Addiction.
But, there’s a fine line between enabling and helping, Harman said. “The addict has to want to get clean. That’s the frustrating thing. I want to prevent as many parents from having to go through trying to get their addicts clean.”
Harman, along with other members of Parents Affected By Addiction, is pushing for random student drug tests in schools. The group plans to speak with officials in Southern Maryland schools about its proposal in September and October. PABA has members in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties, averaging about 30 members per meeting and about 50 on their email distribution list, participants said.
Addiction is happening to more kids who are straight-A students, and athletes, Harman said.
“Maybe there are some people who think we should not do random student drug testing. I would like to know what they think we should do,” she said. “Because what we’re doing now is not working.”
According to a 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 23 percent of students in St. Mary’s high schools said they were offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property in the past 12 months. Thirteen percent said they had taken a prescription drug, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, without a doctor’s prescription. And, between about 2 to 7 percent said they’d tried other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and ecstasy. Within the past year, St. Mary’s health organizations have hosted two drug summits to address the issue, and more events are planned.
PABA believes other data in the survey is a result of drug use, which they say makes children irritable, lethargic and antisocial. About 19 percent of high school students in St. Mary’s reported that they carried a weapon, such as a gun or knife, to school in the past 30 days. Nearly 17 percent said they had been bullied on school property, and 11 percent reported being bullied online. Twenty percent said they felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks in a row, and 13 percent said they seriously considered suicide.
Something has to change, Harman said. And, the random testing could be a start.
“I am absolutely for it,” said Roy Fedders, who serves on the State Health Coalition Board and on the Superintendent’s Safety and Security Committee, which meets quarterly.
He plans to address the topic at the next school Safety and Security Committee meeting Sept. 22. Details haven’t been concluded, but he’d like the school system to consider having nurses administer monitored urine tests to students. Other school systems have sent the tests home for parents to administer.
Whatever is decided, the idea would not be to punish a child who tests positive, Fedders and PABA members agree. The hope is to offer counseling services and resources that explain how the drug can alter their development, as well as seek treatment.
Just the knowledge that they might be tested is often enough, said Dee Rathbone, another antidrug activist here, who agrees with the random testing. He thinks such an effort would work if even just a few students agreed to be tested randomly.
“They know there’s a possibility they could get tested and their parents find out they’re using drugs. Parents control keys to the car and so many other benefits,” he said. “That terrifies them,” he said. Hopefully, they just won’t do it and peer pressure “evaporates.”
Legality shouldn’t be a concern, Rathbone added, citing Supreme Court findings in 1995 in Vernonia, Ore., and 1998 in Indiana’s Rush County, where judges said it was permissible to test athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities.
Look at it as a health issue, and not a criminal issue, plaguing local schools, Rathbone said.
“These are children,” Fedders said. “How can you be educated in our schools when you’re on drugs?”