Task force considers expanded drug testing

Local business could offer incentives for voluntary testing

Posted: Friday, July 03, 2009

The Juneau School District's drug testing task force will draft a mandatory random drug-testing policy for high school athletes and extracurricular participants, but its sights are on something bigger - a voluntary testing program for the whole high school student body.

The task force, created by the Juneau School Board, agreed Wednesday to formulate the mandatory random drug-testing policy to present by its last scheduled meeting July 29.

But beyond that, the task force is increasingly interested in proposing a voluntary drug testing program with incentives from local businesses. Students without ties to school athletics or activities could sign up to be tested, and if they passed would get a special ID card letting them redeem discounts or freebies.

The idea is modeled after an incentive-based program in Autauga County, Ala. There, test results go to the parents, not to the school or law enforcement. It hasn't been independently evaluated, but surveys indicate a 10 percent decrease in alcohol use and a 6.7 percent decrease in marijuana use, said J. Kate Burkhart, executive director of the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Work on a written draft has begun on neither the mandatory nor voluntary programs.

"This is week three and we're barely scratching the surface," said task force member Jeff Duvernay.

A lack of resources in Juneau to treat youths identified as drug and alcohol users is another problem the group anticipates.

"Therapeutic response is slim to none in Juneau," Burkhart said.

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has some substance abuse counseling and outpatient services, but it's not nearly enough, said Destiny Sargeant, a psychologist with SEARHC, School Board member and task force committee chair.

SEARHC also has Raven's Way, a residential substance abuse program in Sitka. The 40-day program takes eight to 10 participants a session. Those accepted must wait for a new session to start.

Juneau Youth Services has a 90-day chemical dependency program but their Montana Creek location only has 15 beds and is only for youth with mental and substance abuse disorders.

Other substance abuse programs in Juneau, such as Rainforest Recovery through Bartlett Regional Hospital, don't treat children.

This may be a severe setback for the task force. Even if they set up an efficient program to identify substance abusers, there may be no way to treat them. Last year, with no drug testing policy in place, 26 kids were shipped out of Juneau for intensive residential treatment.

Since its first meeting June 17 and through its latest meeting Wednesday, the members have gathered facts and a legal opinion, and received a presentation on a variety of programs from Burkhart. Next week, the task force plans to study the Sitka and Ketchikan models in depth to see what might be applicable to Juneau.

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