Drug tests to commence

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The Pawhuska School District is expecting to begin drug and alcohol testing of all students who participate in extracurricular activities during the next school year, according to a policy, approved last week, by the board of education.

Board members voted to implement mandatory drug-testing of extracurricular students for the 2016-17 school term, although complete details of the program are still being drawn up.

Officials said the student drug/alcohol testing is likely to start when Pawhuska classes resume this fall.

The board vote was unanimous, 4-0, with one member not in attendance at the May 9 meeting.

While student drug-testing may have been discussed by the board, briefly, in the past, the issue had never come up for a vote. Drug testing of some district personnel — such as bus drivers — has be carried out for several years.

“The decision was made to start the drug and alcohol testing next (academic) year,” Pawhuska’s School Superintendent Dr. Landon Berry said Thursday.

Berry said mandatory testing policies have become more and more common among the state’s school districts. Drug-monitoring programs are being implemented at an even faster rate outside of Oklahoma, he added.

“They’d been doing it (drug testing of students) for several years at the district I came from,” said Berry, who has been with Pawhuska Schools since 2011.

Berry resigned as Pawhuska superintendent earlier this year, effective June 30, to accept the superintendent’s job in his hometown of Porum. Previously, he had the superintendent’s position with the Haskell School District.

The initial round of student drug/alcohol testing probably will involve every local student who is intending to participate in an extracurricular activity during the 2016-17 school term, the superintendent said. All extracurricular activities — athletics, as well as music, publications, etc. — will be covered by the policy, the school official predicted.

“After the first testing, there will probably be so many students called in every month for random testing,” Berry added.

The 4-0 board decision favoring implementation of the policy included votes of approval by members Mike Tolson, Christi McNeil, Patricia Counts and board president Jeff Bute. Justin Sellers, the fifth board member, was absent.

Consideration of a contract with Alcohol and Drug Testing Inc., to manage the local drug and alcohol programs was tabled, as several stipulations to the police were being considered which might affect the contract’s proposed terms.

While the cost of the testing remains speculative, officials projected estimates of “around $5,000 to $6,000 a year, for a school that size.”

Deterring the use of drugs and alcohol is thought to be a major objective of most school testing programs, according to a professional in the field who agreed to discuss student drug-testing, but only under a pre-condition of anonymity.

“The purpose of testing is not so much to catch offenders as to prevent students from offending in the first place,” she said.

While a variety of testing methods are available — which analyze urine, hair, oral fluids and sweat — the method most commonly employed by schools involves testing of urine. Although some methods test for a “panel” of five to ten different drugs, the typical “school-district variety” tests for marijuana, cocaine, opioids (including prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin), amphetamines and PCP, the professional tester said. It is also possible to screen for synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as spice and K2, she added.

“Alcohol — a drug — is a serious problem with young people,” the expert said.

However, alcohol does not remain in the blood long enough for most tests to detect “anything other than very recent use,” the expert explained.

Breathalyzers, oral fluid tests, and urine tests can only detect use within the past few hours. The cut-off is usually detection of the presence of alcohol for the equivalent of a blood alcohol content greater than 0.02 percent.

“Teens with substance use problems are often polydrug users — meaning they use more than one drug,” the professional said. “Therefore, identifying a problem with an illicit or prescription drug may also suggest an alcohol problem.”

She said tests are “very accurate, although nothing is 100 percent.” Students who attempt to “beat” the tests — especially by diluting or attempting to “mask” a urine sample — “are, almost invariably, going to get caught,” the expert said.