Random drug testing in schools won’t cure, prevent, teen addictions: Opinion column


I think I’m stationary as I sit at my MacBook Air, writing this column. But I’m really moving at 1,040 miles per hour, according to Universe Today.It’s one of a large number of things I understand to be true, even if I can’t quite wrap my head around it. The deaths of young people and addictions are in the same category.

The latter are a disease. I get that. But in a world where most diseases require painful, sometimes further debilitating treatments or, worse yet, have no cure at all, I marvel that addicts can’t see how blessed they are to suffer an affliction that heals through avoidance.

And then take that step toward health by seeking help with their demons.

Then I remember it’s all in their heads, their brains. We think we’re so smart today, but when it comes to the brain we have so few answers. And we still attach enough stigma to mental health issues that families hide their pain, sometimes until it’s too late.

One thing we do know about the brain is that it continues to develop. One part that takes its sweet time is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that assesses risk and predicts consequences. It’s generally complete at about age 25.

Which is one reason young people are injured, maimed and killed at higher rates than “old” people. Accidental injury and death rates are highest among ages 16-20. They’re not trying to make bad decisions, their brains just haven’t developed enough to allow them to fully comprehend the result of their actions.

Now factor in the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and novel and potentially risky new activities, such as driving and sexual exploration.

So older adults throughout time have set reasonable rules, like “Don’t pet the pretty lion.” Or, “Fire is not a toy.” Even, “I don’t care if you have sex, as long as it’s protected and you finish college before starting a family.”

In litigious societies, the rules multiply like bunnies. As if rules could cure addictions, or prevent risk-taking, or end all accidents.

Advocates resort to platitudes: “If it just saves one life, we should do it!” “If you don’t break the rules, you have nothing to fear!”

Opponents who believe we have crossed the line raise pesky truisms: “We are sacrificing liberty for illusions of safety.”

What would the men and women who fought the French Revolution, or designed the New Hampshire state emblem think of citizens today? Vivre Libre ou Mourir. Live free or die.

Does it really compare to today’s rallying cry, “It’s all for the children! They’re our future.”

All while we’re polluting our earth, sacrificing a healthy middle class to corporate greed and opposing universal health care.

We continue to fight an old-fashioned “war on drugs,” one based on fact and fiction. Despite limited finances and manpower, law-enforcement agencies in New Jersey spend great sums and great time enforcing marijuana possession offenses.

It diverts precious resources from the new drug epidemic of prescription-drug and related heroin abuse.

In 2014 anti-drug programs are largely including prescription-pill abuse. But most 20-somethings never got that message, because adults continued to address the Baby Boomer’s war on drugs.

Our children and young adults are getting hooked on opioids lifted from a home medicine cabinet. They’re dying.

Addictions ruin lives, their cost rippling throughout a community. Those who were powerless to stop their toll sometimes turn to well-intended “solutions” that, in reality, may have no value or may suffer unintended consequences.

Random drug testing is one, a placebo, not a cure. It’s based on what we think, not what we can prove. Such testing in schools, by law, may only include those students who have agreed to the possibility in exchange for participation in a school-sponsored team, activity or event.

Suspicion-based testing, on the other hand, may be done on any student.

Random drug testing offers parents and school staffs a false security. Some assume it is a sufficient deterrent for all. Others feel that if drugs and alcohol are absent, their teens will be safe behind the wheel, forgetting the dangers of drowsiness, inexperience, speed and distractions.

It’s true that alcohol and drugs impair judgment in sexual situations, but removing them still leaves hormones, peer pressure, teen angst, the thrill of conquest and that still-developing brain.

Schools also have limited resources. Instead of spending them on random testing, train staff to better spot and report suspected drug users. Make “problem-solving skills” a major part of health curriculums throughout the grade levels.

This is a biggie: Help students develop “anti-drug” interests that continue after high school, after college, when there are few suburban organized teams open to or activities attractive to young adults.

Such steps take much more work than supporting a random drug testing program in a school, and bear far better, long-term dividends.