Say yes to drug test
Concept touted as stay-clean method
BY WILLIAM CROYLE | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
A local company believes it has a way to help keep kids off drugs and will try it this fall in Northern Kentucky and Ohio schools.
Drug Free Clubs of America says kids today can say yes or no if pressured to do drugs, but the company is adding a third choice: "I can't."
Joe Newcomb, a 31-year veteran of the Cincinnati Fire Department, founded the nonprofit organization based near Sharonville this year.
His method involves randomly testing kids and rewarding those who stay clean rather than punishing those who don't. It's based on a program in Alabama's Autauga County Schools.
"Drugs are a huge problem. We need to think in a whole different way," said Newcomb, who is financing this with a couple of partners. "We need to catch the ones who are not using, reward them and hope they will sell it to other kids."
Here's how it works:
With their parents' consent, students in grades 6-12 can join the club for $65 a year, at which time they take a urine drug test. Those who test clean will get a photo identification card that gives them discounts at local businesses. The company will also randomly test 25 percent of students a couple of times during the school year.
Testing is done at the school by Drug Free Clubs. Drug Free Clubs does the rest. School administrators won't be given test results.
"If we released the results to the school, they'd be legally responsible for reacting," said employee Angie Ferguson, who is marketing this to Northern Kentucky schools. "We don't want kids to be suspended for volunteering for this."
A doctor will call the parents of a child who tests positive and offer resources for help. That student must give up his membership card.
The student can get it back after getting help and testing negative.
Heather McGowan is marketing it to Ohio schools and said one that's interested is Princeton High School, which will soon take it to the school board for approval.
"The good thing is if you're at a party and confronted with it, you can say 'No, I can't, because I could be tested,'" said Princeton resource officer Brian Rose.
In Northern Kentucky, Boone County Superintendent Bryan Blavatt has given his approval for the company to meet with his eight middle and high school principals.
Blavatt, a member of the National Alliance for Safe Schools, said he initially had some concerns, especially about confidentiality and the role of the schools, but was satisfied after meeting with Ferguson.
"I have no problem with it," said Blavatt. "I think it's a tight program, beneficial to parents and not invasive to the rights of students."
Campbell County High School is also on board. So is Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger.
"I think it will promote good habits by staying drug-free and, if they test positive, they can get help without the fear of being disciplined by the school," said Tichenor Principal Buddy Schwierjohann.
Beth Wilson, executive director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said she doesn't have strong feelings one way or the other on the program since it's voluntary and the government isn't forcing anything, but she doesn't think the benefits of a drug testing program outweigh the privacy intrusions.
"I think there are more effective ways to discourage drug use among young people, such as after-school programs or other activities that keep them involved," said Wilson.
"Yes, education is needed," Ferguson said. "Shocking statistics are needed; but so is being able to say 'I can't' at a Friday night party," said Ferguson. "Each serves its own purpose."
The company is recruiting schools and businesses now and plans to start testing in the fall. Ferguson said they'll recruit all types of businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. Businesses that don't have anything to offer kids can donate to a college scholarship fund for them.
Drug Free Clubs will also get national exposure next week. It's one of 70 companies out of 300 applicants selected to host a workshop at the 2006 Pride Youth Programs conference in Washington, D.C. Pride is a 29-year-old organization that has helped more than 6,400 school systems in drug prevention.