Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Random Drug Testing in High School:Why I'm FOR It!

Sorry it's been so long since my last post, but I have been caught up in a very public debate here in good old St. Louie, revolving around a proposed random drug testing program my son's private, Catholic high school is considering implementing. Being a pharmacist with several close relatives and friends who have had their issues both in the past and on-going with drug use (casual as well as severe), I have very definite opinions on the subject which result in my being strongly in favor of routine, random testing beginning in high school.

Last week, following a meeting at my son's school where this program was presented to the parent body for their consideration and feedback, I was interviewed by the local television news stations "CBC Parents Meet Over Student Drug Testing" regarding my position on the proposed testing. Consequently, my interview played over several days on all of the major stations in St. Louis, prompting many emails and phone calls from those who agreed as well as those who disagreed with the stance I took. One of these emails, came from a friend I have known since we ourselves were teenagers who attended high school together. I am publishing excerpts from his email (in order to protect his privacy), along with my emailed response below. I feel this is a very important issue, and would love to hear as much feedback from others as possible as to how they approach the subject of drug use with their own kids.

My son and many of his friends are in favor of the testing in some ways, though peer pressure (the real culprit) is resulting in public displays of rebellion I believe. Like many teens, they want to change the world and this is their chance to "buck the system". I tell them they are Rebels Without Cause, but I applaud their solidarity.

Anyway, the emails I spoke of are attached below...please read them and holler back!

Email from high school friend:

Oh Oh,
You touched a subject near and dear to my heart. I don't know about you, but I smoked marijuana in high school. Never at school and never on school premises. My mother didn't like it, but being a product of the sixties, she had to admit that not only had she tried it, but she liked it and did it (a few) times. Her aunt who raised her was very religious and who'd dare allow that (devil weed) anywhere near her house.
Sharon, I guarantee that not only have probably 75% of the kids at CBC's parents tried marijuana before, but probably still do some form of drug now. (Remember alcohol is a drug and driving drunk is ILLEGAL.)

I have a child that is a senior. Of course I don't want my child to do any type of drug, but I tell her of my experiences, both good and bad, and hope she makes the right choices. At the same time I realize that she will make mistakes and she will have to learn from HER experiences, not mine. Therefore I feel that the decision that you and the other parents at CBC or making is not only misguided, but arrogant (for any parent that uses drugs.) and wrong.
I have had the experience of having been subject to a school where I do remember that there where frequent locker searches and most teachers examined students to see if they were under the influence. I agree whole heartedly to something like that, but to prevent students from learning from their mistakes, in my opinion is WRONG!

My email response:

Now you done gone and done it...

I, unlike you did not smoke weed back in the day though my boyfriend back then was a weed-head (who I might add poured kerosene on himself and lit a match to impress a girl [not me] while high on crack which he graduated to after we broke up). I am not in any way sanctimonious about drug use or experimentation for that matter, but I don't feel it is necessary to actually make "a mistake" to learn a lesson. I, like you don't want my son to even try drugs, but in the event that he does, I would hope he would at least feel open enough to let me know so that I can watch for signs that he needs help. Knowing that he (or any teenager for that matter) would be very unlikely to clue his parents in, drug testing may be the only early alert I get that might help me to prevent a potentially serious problem from developing or a catastrophe that could have been avoided (i.e. car accident, reckless behavior, etc.).

The thing that concerns me most, is that these kids unlike my boyfriend and his weed-head friends back in the day seem to think that there are "degrees of bad" where drug use is concerned...they don't think of weed as just the beginning, and I don't think there is any debate about the fact that most serious drug use and addiction starts with alcohol and weed. Determining who will simply stick with weed and who will progress to other, "more seriously harmful" agents is the unknown. Unfortunately, alcohol (without question the teen's drug of choice) clears from the system so fast (within hours, usually less than 8) that it is very difficult to randomly test for its use. I am considered a "cool MOM" by Ryan's friends so even knowing my position on drug and alcohol use among teens, most of them talk to me about things they would never discuss with other adults including their parents; some even admit they partake. They tell me that marijuana is not physically addictive so it should be okay. In this way, they are different from us as kids as well, as they are much more intellectual in their approach and better informed regarding the science of drugs. I think if they are doing this much thinking, they should be given the rest of the picture to think about and take into consideration as well. As a pharmacist, I tell them that indeed marijuana does have limited physical addictiveness, though that is not the real issue. The real issue is the way that it changes perception (i.e. distance when driving, sense of mortality, etc.) and this is where the risk of using this particular drug lies. I tell them that minimally, if they use it, it should be treated with the same care that should be taken with alcohol use, do it at home, and please don't drive themselves and definitely not my kid around when they are using it!

Their ideas about physical verses mental addiction are also a major issue for me. You don't have to be a drug addict to understand that mental addiction is probably a hundred times harder to overcome than physical addiction. I tell them that physical addiction only requires removal of the addicting substance from the system which with most drugs is just a matter of time, followed by isolation of the addicted person from future contact with the addicting substance. Mental addiction on the other hand is much harder to overcome because it leads individuals to seek, plan, scheme, or do whatever is necessary to get access to the source of their addiction. Don't even look at it in terms of drug use I tell them, think seriously overweight people who won't stop eating, think alcoholics who won't stop drinking (even after re-hab has cleared the alcohol's physical addiction), think anorexics/bulemics who continue to starve themselves though any mirror should tell them they are too thin. These are all examples of the power of mental/emotional addiction. The key to recommending and taking whatever steps I can to convince and encourage my son to refrain is simple: Those who never experiment even once with drugs have no chance of becoming addicts. Though I realize he, like most teens will probably experiment at some point, I hope he will at least consider the consequences (all of them) of his actions prior to making his decisions. This, I believe to be the greatest benefit of random testing in schools, it gives the kid an incentive to think beyond right now, to the consequences he/she might face long-term (i.e. tomorrow at school). That is the overall goal of my entire parenting approach. The fact of the matter is that kids who know without a shadow of a doubt that their parents will probably find out that they did A, B, or C will probably not do it, as most of us refrain from things unless we are pretty sure we can get away with it. It also impacts my son's friends in potentially the same way, creating a peer-pressure that can potentially work in his favor instead of against him. Let's face it, if high school and college are supposed to prepare kids for the real world, then they should learn that in almost any industry they go into they will face drug testing as a pre-requisite to employment and potentially to remaining employed, so we're just starting the lessons earlier when they have a better chance of sinking know, old dog, new tricks ;).

I believe that very few kids sitting home alone think "Maybe I'll try drugs today!" This being the case, I think that the overwhelming majority of teen drug use is consequential to the subtle peer-pressure they face (i.e. everybody's hanging at the mall, everybody's going to the park, the joint is being passed at the party, everybody was hitting it so I did too, etc.). I know that kids oftentimes end up doing things they would not otherwise do just because of where they are and who they are with. If more kids are saying no than yes, a kid is more likely to refrain; the reverse is true as well. So I see drug testing at school the way I see having a strict mother which my son's friends say I am. I have heard my son tell his friends, "ya'll know I can't do that, ya'll know my Moms!". I applaud him, and tell him to use me as the scapegoat anytime he needs to. On that same token, a kid attending a school known to have a drug testing program can say, "ya'll know I can't get with that, shit I might get tested Monday!". Used right, it can be a powerful tool, and from what some of the kids are saying, a tool they would appreciate having.

I truly am not all that concerned about what my son on his own would do, but I don't, can't, and won't underestimate the power of his peers. He is a great kid, as most kids are, and doesn't believe he is influenced at all by peer pressure as most kids believe. I beg to differ, and though I think he has some independent thinking abilities, I think that he and other really good kids like him are the ones at highest risk for many of these things because they do try so hard to please everyone, and be part of the "in-crowd". I was that kind of kid myself even though I kind of floated on the fringes of many crowds like a bee moving from flower to flower as my mother says, and will admit that though I did not do drugs, my friends got me into many other things I probably would never have considered on my own.

In closing I will relate an experience I had in November. I have a cousin (female, 2 months older than me), who I was very close to growing up. We had almost identical childhoods, as our mothers are sisters and raised us very similarly. She has been a drug user since we were 16; she started with weed. Her mother was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and I got to spend time with my cousin while visiting my aunt in the hospital back in November. As I got ready to leave, my cousin who I rarely see because she doesn't come around the family much, walked me to my car. In the parking lot, we had a wonderful moment and reconnected almost like it was when we were kids. As I got ready to leave, she asked me "What I thought the difference between her and me was considering how close we were growing up and how similarly we were raised?" She asked me "Why did I think things turned out like they did with me being "so sucessful" (I know that sounds conceited but I swear that's how she put it!), and her being caught up?" I told her that the only difference between me and her is that she is a gambler and adventurer, and I'm not, at least not in the same way. I explained to her that even back then, looking at our family, I thought there was a tendency to overdo things (addictive personalities abounded) that were fun (i.e. big time drinkers) and to avoid that, I simply did not try things that could end up bad while she did the opposite. I told her that I always assumed (and I still do), that I would get addicted to anything I tried the very first time if I liked it (my philosophy, if it feels good do it!), and the thought of addiction probably never occurred to her. Maybe I'm paranoid, could be, but I say all this to say that I truly believe that it has to be impressed on kids that it really is that can't get hooked if you don't try it in the first place!

Your drug-free buddy,


Anonymous said...

Hello Tete!

I know you think I'm superliberal and whatnot, but I actually agree 100% with your blog. As someone who never used drugs myself (except for a little bit of caffeine every now and then!), something like this was never a concern of mine (there was concern at my school on part of the weedheads that HEHS would start implementing drug testing) and if my high school had implemented it, I wouldn't blink twice. I'd probably be more embarrassed about handing my urine to somebody than them testing it for drugs!

It's not like this is an invasive procedure or anything. Some may feel that the students' rights are violated but many rights do students have anyway? Even their student publications are subject to the scrutiny and censorship of their administrators (yeah they went to the Supreme Court and lost on that one..I believe Hazelwood East was involved in something like that). Unfortunately, it's just one of the sucky things about being in high school. But it's only for four years and like you said, once they start job searching, they'll be doing the same thing. Employers don't want drug addicts conducting people is too expensive!

If they aren't on drugs, they don't have anything to worry about.

-Your brilliant babygirl (I get it from my Tete!)

Safa said...

Definitely agree with you! Same reason I wouldn't feel bad about reading my 16 year-old stepdaugter's journal if she keeps in in plain sight!

LadyLee said...

I agree with you, Sharon...

But what broke my brother up from smoking and drinking is our Grandfather dying from lung cancer a few years ago... He said that was his turning point, and that speaks louder than any peer pressure ever could...

Good post!