The Costs of Drug Testing is Too High for Hawaii's Public Schools-In My Opinion

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“Laura Brown Image”

Senate President Robert Bunda, D-North Shore, suggested in his opening day speech that children in Hawaii’s public schools should be tested for illegal drug use while at school. This was part of his strategy to help curb the high drug usage by Hawaii’s population.


Gov. Linda Lingle, in her State of the State address, said she agreed with Bunda that the possibility of drug testing students at school could help bring down drug usage and addiction in Hawaii. Hawaii currently ranks first in ice usage, according to Hawaii’s U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo. Though details of the plan were not yet developed, Lingle said at a press conference following her State of the State, that parents could opt out their children making the program voluntary.

However, many people in Hawaii do not believe there should be drug testing in Hawaii’s public schools, voluntary or otherwise. And there is some logic behind their concern, especially considering how other programs nationally have failed.

There is a good reason why only 3 percent of school districts nationally drug test students: the costs far outweigh the benefits.

Nevertheless, a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing schools to drug test interscholastic athletes set off a drug company marketing frenzy in an attempt to capture a share of the potential education market.

In a June 22, 2002, press release, Worldwide Medical Corp. President and CEO Daniel G. McGuire stated that the court decision would “accelerate the company’s focus towards the education marketplace.” Employee drug testing already is a $1 billion dollar per year market in the United States.

As an enticement to schools, some drug companies are offering free drug testing paraphernalia for the first year of a school’s program.

Sports Safe Testing Service Inc., Ohio, estimates the total cost of voluntary drug testing of 5 students per year at $7,500. Schools in Dublin, Ohio, spent $70,000 the first year and netted 20 students who tested positive for some kind of banned substance. The school board then decided it would be more beneficial to hire a full-time drug and alcohol counselor.

More costly is mandatory testing of athletes, since it is usually done on the whole team at the beginning of each season, followed by weekly random testing of 10 percent of in-season athletes. A school with 700 athletes can expect to pay annually between $54,000 and $88,000. Hair testing can cost up to $200 per sample. However, these costs are based on actual laboratory costs only.

”A Certified Lab is Required”

First, a community must identify which drugs are causing the problems in their schools. For example, if a community suffers from ice or Ecstasy use, they must find a lab that specifically screens for those drugs.

Many labs advertise the ability to do urine drug testing, but not all labs are certified by the government. The only way to increase the odds of obtaining accurate results is to use a government certified lab, which means it must have a minimum of 10 years experience in toxicology testing and chain-of-custody procedures. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) labs use a Substance Abuse Panel to screen for amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana, codeine, methadone and phencyclidine.

A Medical Review Officer (MRO) must be used to review results and make final certification. A MRO is a licensed MD trained and certified in drug testing by the Medical Review Officer Certified Council (MROCC). The closest SAMHSA certified lab to Hawaii is in San Diego.

”Window of Detectability”’

Most drugs have a small window of detectability before the metabolites are absorbed by the body. In other words, schools will not be able to determine weekend drinking. LSD metabolites are so small, they are unlikely to be detected at all.

Masking techniques and products are widely available. While radioimmunoassy (RIA) may be used for preliminary screening, Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) provides a “molecular fingerprint” of the drug. This is the only acceptable industry standard for drug-screen confirmations.

”False Positives can Lead to Litigation”

Although the MRO shares liability with the school for test results, the risk of obtaining a false positive is high.

There are more than 100 prescription drugs that can cause a positive result.

Ibuprofen can result in a false positive for marijuana. Second hand tobacco or marijuana smoke can be detected, as well as any medication containing codeine.

Students who take Ritalin, Dexedrine or other prescription medications for learning disabilities may be misidentified as substance abusers.

Litigation costs then would undoubtedly far exceed routine lab costs.

”Drug Testing Hurts Morale”

The message drug testing sends from adults to students is they cannot be trusted.

Research shows that participation in extra-curricular activities greatly decreases the likelihood of drug, alcohol or tobacco use.

The negative consequence of drug testing may be decreased participation in extra-curricular activities by students who most need positive redirection and reinforcement.

School personnel must also act as monitors in the collection process. This disrupts the school environment and destroys privacy. Strict refrigeration requirements may result in urine samples being stored in staff refrigerators along side their lunches.

It would only be a matter of time before the unions precluded their members from participation in this process and extra staff would have to be hired to carry out the program in each school.

Lack of certified labs, costs of testing and monitoring, probability of litigation and the shifting of teacher responsibility from academics to policing all add up to a price too great for Hawaii’s school system to bear.

”’Laura Brown is a researcher and the education writer for Hawaii Reporter. She can be reached via email at:”’