Friday, July 29, 2005

John Walters, right, director of National Drug Control Policy, congratulated Mid-Pacific Institute yesterday on its efforts to reduce youth drug use. School President Joe Rice, left, said he was surprised that the program has 60 percent participation.

Bush’s drug czar
lauds Mid-Pac

The Manoa school's urine test
program has exceeded expectations

Mid-Pacific Institute officials said they are happy so far with the number of students who have opted to volunteer for random drug tests in the upcoming school year.

As of yesterday the school had received responses on nearly 60 percent of the notices sent to Mid-Pacific families asking whether their chil- dren would take part in the controversial program, which has encountered opposition from some parents, school officials said.

A little more than half of those responding so far have agreed to the testing, said Joe Rice, president of the Manoa private school.

"I'm blown away," Rice said, adding that he had expected a positive response rate of about 30 percent.

Rice spoke during an appearance at the school yesterday by Bush administration "drug czar" John Walters, who praised the program, the first student drug-testing policy at a Hawaii school.

"(Mid-Pacific's) example is one that needs to be replicated across the country," said Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, who is in town to attend a conference of state lieutenant governors.

But drug testing has been a sensitive topic at Mid-Pacific, which initially sought to introduce the urine tests last January but held off after protests from parents who favored educational and other methods proven to curb drug use.

Urine sample tests have been criticized as ineffective on substances like crystal methamphetamine, which does not stay in the system long, and for the risk of false positive tests.

"There are more effective approaches out there. I think this just gives parents a false sense of security," said Dr. Gerald Brouwers, a psychologist and Mid-Pacific parent who is opting out of the program, though he credited the school with giving parents and students a choice.

The voluntary program will release test results only to parents and is intended to encourage discussion and intervention at home about drug use. The threat of parental reaction also will provide students with more leverage in saying "no" to peer pressure, Rice said.

"They can announce to their peers that 'I can't take the chance'" when offered drugs, he said.

Since taking over as "drug czar" in 2001, Walters has been pushing drug testing in schools as a deterrent, despite opposition from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and others who worry about invasion of privacy and question its effectiveness.

The voluntary testing at Mid-Pacific will be open to sixth through 12th grades, which encompass about 1,200 students. Rice said each month the school will test about 10 percent of those who opt into the testing pool. School begins Aug. 10.

A bill was introduced to the state Legislature in 2003 that would have allowed voluntary drug testing in public schools, but it made little headway before it was killed amidst declining youth drug-use numbers.

"Drug use in schools is going down and continues to go down," said Kendyl Ko, an educational specialist with the Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.

Ko agreed there are more effective ways to curb substance abuse, such as ensuring a positive school environment in which kids feel engaged, and to focus more on alcohol.

"Alcohol is the biggest problem because Hawaii is such a big beer state. After every Little League game, the parents and coaches start drinking. What sort of message does that send to the kids?" he said.

While acknowledging that some methods work better than others, Rice defended Mid-Pacific's program.

"If this can help even one kid, it will have been worth it," he said.

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