The statement below appeared in the Courier-Journal’s Community Forum page on July 4.
Trinity High School & Drug Testing – Two Years Later
By Rob Mullen ’77 and Dan Zoeller H’07
In his book, “Thank You For Being Late,” Thomas Friedman examines societal disruption caused by today’s pace of change. He argues globalization, climate change and rapid technological change has led to increased anxiety about the future. Imagine being a teenager growing up in these times.
The Courier-Journal has done a thorough job reporting about the growing threats to teens caused by substance abuse. Whether it was the pill-mill pipelines, the tragic opioid/opiate crisis, or coverage of binge drinking issues, this paper has reported on many accompanying tragedies in our community.
Two years ago, after much study and reflection, Trinity added random alcohol and drug testing of students to the array of education, prevention and intervention programs we have.
Six hundred students were tested during our initial year of drug-testing, with 24 students (4 percent) testing positive. During the just-completed school year, we tested 800 students – with just 3 percent testing positive (24 students). While one positive test is too many, we still find the very low incidence of use heartening. We take comfort knowing that testing has created a new way for our students and their parents to discuss the important issue of drug and alcohol abuse.
The test uses a small sample of hair and can detect use for the previous 90 days. Tests detect binge drinking, cocaine, marijuana, opiates (including heroin, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone), methamphetamines, ecstasy (MDMA), Eve (MDEA), phencyclidine (PCP) and oxymorphone (opana). As other drugs emerge they are added to the tests.
When a student tests positive our first reaction is not punitive. We meet with the parent(s) and student, review the results and encourage them to use community counseling resources to interrupt this risky behavior. During this phase of drug testing, no school consequences occur. School counselors are available for support and guidance. If a student tests positive, he will be tested every 100 days until further notice. If he tests positive again school consequences begin. This has been rare so far.
Parents support our program because they understand it empowers their sons to make better decisions. At parties or in unsupervised homes, teens often are pressured or forget good advice from parents, school and church. We hear frequently that it really does help in peer situations to be able to say, “I can’t. My school tests.”
Though we weren’t the first school to test in this area, several other schools have visited us to learn more and adopted our policy as their own. Without testing, no school has any idea how many students are using, and more importantly, which students need help.
We have long approached the issue of teenage drug and alcohol abuse with an education and “help first” attitude. These efforts encourage modeling by staff and parents. We even moved to a no-alcohol practice for all adults attending school events on campus, including our most recent dinner and auction fund-raising event which was alcohol-free for the first time.
With the concurrence of our faculty and staff, the Trinity School Board adopted a pre-employment and random testing program for all employees. Our School Board too is beginning voluntary testing. These steps are being taken to be in solidarity with our students and to underline the school’s stance against illegal drugs and abusive drinking.
As more states legalize marijuana, as rates of binge drinking remain high, and as pills and opioids become commonplace, we are thankful to have added this practice.
Scientific studies make clear most addictions are formed in the teen years. With our educational programs and testing, the Trinity community is supporting our students with important tools while also buying time for healthy brain development. In a world changing so quickly, clear minds stand the best chance of getting ahead and leading happy, productive lives.
Rob Mullen, President of Trinity High School
Dan Zoeller, Principal of Trinity High School