Signatures collected for school drug tests

Petition of 1000+ names to be presented to School Board on Tuesday

Posted: Friday, June 05, 2009

A group calling on the Juneau School Board to implement a random drug-testing program for high school activities says it has collected more than 1,000 signatures it plans to present at Tuesday night's regular meeting.

Taking Action, a group that formed in part to combat OxyContin abuse in the community, is asking the School Board to implement a mandatory random drug-testing program by the beginning of next school year for all students involved in sports and extracurricular activities. Mitch Falk, a founding member of the group and a local business owner, is not sure of the exact number of signatures on the petitions but said there seems to be strong community support.

"There is a ton of interest," he said. "The more you open your ears and listen and the more you talk about it, the more you hear about it and the more you realize how many people have been devastated by (OxyContin)."

School Board President Mark Choate said the board is planning to create a committee to research a possible testing program. The committee will have a doctor, a judge, coaches, community members and a representative from the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence of Juneau, he said.

"Just simply rolling out a testing program by itself, I don't think it's going to solve anything," he said. "It could create a lot of problems."

There are still a number of issues that need to be thoroughly researched before implementing a testing program, Choate said. There are medical privacy issues, criminal considerations, rehabilitation issues and chain of custody issues involved in the testing process, he said. Choate said he believes proposals will be ready for consideration by the fall.

"Right now everyone is very interested in seeing something done and I think we got that message, but part of our job is to do something that is intelligent and that is good for kids," he said.

Lesslie Knight, a member of Taking Action and the girls' basketball coach at Juneau-Douglas High School, said there is strong support among coaches to implement a random drug testing program. She said athletes tend to set the example for their peers both on and off the court. She is supporting it as a preventative measure.

"I think you will always have drugs, there will always be problems, but our drug problem in the high school mirrors the problems in the community," Knight said. "If we can prevent two kids from doing it, that's better than what we're doing now."

Knight recently informally polled 100 students at JDHS about prescription drug abuse.

"One hundred percent of the upperclassmen I interviewed knew someone that had a problem with OxyContin," she said. "Of those numbers, 80 some percent thought we needed to do some sort of testing."

Choate said a drug-testing program should be just one element of a comprehensive strategy to combat drug use in the schools.

"Kids are not doing drugs because they are in school," he said. "The usage of drugs is a community issue and it has widespread implications."

Falk said other school districts in Southeast Alaska like Ketchikan, Sitka and Wrangell have already implemented random drug-testing programs for students in activities so there is no reason why Juneau shouldn't as well.

"We've lost a generation of kids to this stuff," he said. "This isn't going to cure everything, but this is a step. This is just one step."

Falk believes it is possible to implement a drug-testing program before next year, although he admits he is not sure where the money would come from to fund such a program.

"It costs a lot more to do nothing," he said. "It's costing us our town."

Falk said he hopes there will be a big community turnout at the School Board next regular meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in the JDHS library.

"We want something done," he said. "We've basically drawn a line in the sand that there is no gray area here because there is really no gray area with this drug."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

Correction appended. Mitch Falk's last name was misspelled and has been corrected.




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