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An Alternative to Drug Testing: Everyone Sees ACTION

Democratic Voices

Posted: February 12, 2008 10:41 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2008 2:01 a.m.

A controversial proposal regarding the drug testing of athletes in our high schools has been the subject of several Signal articles. Cary Quashen, founder of ACTION Family Counseling, a successful drug intervention program for teens and their families, supports the notion and has offered ACTION’s assistance. A committee appointed by the William S. Hart Union High School board of education interviewed coaches, administrators, teachers and parents.

Many of those interviewed were concerned with the limited scope of the testing (only students engaged in high school extracurricular activities), transgressions of individual and parental rights, repercussions from positive or false tests, and the effectiveness of such a policy. Sean Herron, the student representative on the Hart board, wrote a compelling piece discussing why he and many students are against random drug testing.

I am not sure that drug testing is the deterrent some board members are hoping for, but I do believe that implementation of such a policy could lead to a series of controversial dilemmas. If nothing else, the fact that only students involved in extracurricular activities would be targeted, due to a Supreme Court ruling, is seen as unfair by parents and students alike.

On the other hand, I definitely believe that the availability of both legal and illegal substances is a temptation to many people, especially those under age 21, who are unprepared to handle it. Therefore, I appreciate that the Hart board is discussing this problem in open forum.

Substance abuse is a problem that can only be reasonably addressed by recognizing the historical trends that contributed to the problems we face today. The existence of drugs is nothing new, but the easy access is. We also must face the fact that modern life has changed the landscape of childhood. Although each generation has had crosses to bear, children in America are experiencing life at an accelerated pace, and many are having a difficult time coping with all that is thrown at them. It does not surprise me that many young people are tempted by drugs.

The steady rise in drug and alcohol abuse and our awareness of it has been escalating since the late 1960s. I vaguely remember being exposed to the evils of marijuana (remember “Reefer Madness”?) in my high school health classes, but at that time, alcohol was the drug of choice for teens at my school. Adults didn’t encourage their children to drink, but America’s prohibitionist voices had long been silent. Growing up, drinking was a socially acceptable adult activity — many parents went to cocktail parties, comics routinely portrayed falling-down drunks, and adults often turned a blind eye to drunk driving.

In the 1970s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving began changing society’s attitudes and treatment of drunk drivers, but doctors were beginning to routinely prescribe anti-depressants and amphetamines to our middle-aged parents. Somehow, there was the belief that medically prescribed psychotropic drugs were OK, while marijuana and the entire field of street drugs was deemed dangerous and illicit.

As far as I’m concerned, any mind-altering drug can be dangerous. The medical establishment and pharmaceutical corporations understand the dangers of mixing or misusing drugs, yet it is not uncommon to read of accidental overdoses. Heath Ledger’s tragic death should be a wake-up call for all of us. Ledger may have been cavalier in his drug use, but his death was avoidable. Suffering from pneumonia, sleeplessness, and no doubt stressful work schedules, he was prescribed a multitude of medications. Having had pneumonia, I know how debilitating it can be. What he needed was recuperation time and someone who made sure that he was eating and resting properly.

His autopsy revealed that five legal drugs contributed to his death. These included three anti-anxiety medications and two sleeping sedatives. Believe it or not, all of these medications have been advertised on television.

How many of you were shocked when pharmaceuticals began marketing their products on television? I remember the cartoon stomach on the Alka-Seltzer commercials. It obviously influenced me. Even though my parents never bought it, I remember trying Alka-Seltzer at our friend’s house (without consulting my parents) after a particularly bountiful Thanksgiving. Yuck! It was worse than an upset stomach. Today, children who watch television are exposed to the premise that any and all problems can be remedied with a pill.

Many doctors resort to writing a prescription because it offers relief to their patients. If a patient asks about a specific medication (one that he has seen in commercials) is the doctor more apt to write a prescription? How many of us are guilty of wanting a quick fix for chronic back pain, insomnia or weight loss? One can’t blame the medical profession entirely; and certainly, many doctors are cautious when prescribing medications. Unfortunately, parents are often surprised to learn that their kids have raided their medicine cabinets or become addicted to prescription pills purchased on the street.

In my opinion, the medical community over-medicates children. Taking a pill becomes part of their habit life. I went through mumps, measles, and chicken pox. I remember the doctor coming to my house, but I was never given any medication — except when my eardrum ruptured. In the last 25 years, more and more children are being medicated for a range of medical as well as behavioral symptoms manifesting as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, or oppositional defiance.

We cannot plead ignorance to the fact that children as young as 9 years old are at risk for drug or alcohol addiction. Yet I believe that many families are caught off guard when they realize that their children are abusing drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse affects everyone: the abuser, the family, society.

Intervention programs such as ACTION are essential in every community, but I would suggest that programs like this are offered and attended by all families and their teens — no exceptions. Better than drug testing, this offers every family an education and an opportunity to discuss the reality of substance abuse — before a problem occurs and in a safe environment. Teens will hate this, but tough!


Leigh Hart is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several SCV Democrats.

Copyright: The Signal


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