1) How big is America’s drug problem? BIG! The U.S. Government reports that 9.7 million Americans used marijuana and 1.9 million used cocaine in the last month. Heroin use by secondary grade students roughly doubled between 1991 and 1995 and remained steady through 2000. The use of the “rave” party drug “Ecstasy” was up by as much as 55.6% over 1998 and it is killing more and more of our children every year! (Source: “Monitoring the Future” national survey of 45,300 students in 433 secondary schools.)
2) What are schools and parents doing about the drug problem? Many schools are implementing one or more of the following: anti-drug abuse policies; comprehensive drug-abuse education and drug awareness programs; drug testing programs. Many parents are beginning to frequently drug test their children as a preventive measure, in effect, giving them another excuse to say, “No!” to drugs and to their peers who try to push drugs on them.
3) Is drug testing accurate? Yes, when done properly. The typical procedure is a two-step process in which a urine sample (specimen) is divided in half, and the first half is tested using a relatively simple, inexpensive, yet highly accurate test (usually an “immunoassay”). If the result of that initial test is “negative” the lab will report the test as “negative” and no additional testing will be performed on that specimen. On the other hand, if the result of the first test is “positive”, then a second test is conducted on the second half of the original sample using a different testing process that serves to “confirm” whether or not the first analysis was accurate.
This second (“confirmatory”) test is performed using a more sophisticated and more expensive technique such as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) or thin-layer chromatography (TLC). Only if both halves of a specimen show up “positive” by these two separate testing methods (and using portions of the same urine) is it then reported as a “positive” by the lab. The first test (by immunoassay) is 97-99% accurate, while the second test (by GC/MS or TLC) is virtually 100.00% accurate from a scientific standpoint. Because of this Industry-standard, two-step, “fail-safe” process, the lab’s report of the specimen as “positive” (AFTER a second, confirmatory test) will – virtually 100% of the time – be upheld in a Court of Law if the person who was tested should choose to try and legally “challenge” that result.
4) But can’t you “beat” a drug test? Yes, you “can”, but the odds against it are very long and getting longer all the time. The opportunity for adulteration or substitution generally is limited by the integrity of the collection and testing process, and at any rate is detectable in most cases at the laboratory. The increasing popularity of “on-site” specimen collection, too, has greatly contributed to the reduction of specimen adulteration or substitution by donors attempting to cheat the system. (Click here to read a separate article, “Cheating on Drug Tests: Does it Work?”)
5) What about “false positives”? Most of the popular stories about ” things” that falsely trigger a “positive” drug-test result are based on misconceptions. These ” things” normally either:
Don’t show up at all (e.g., “second-hand” marijuana smoke does NOT trigger a positive)
Are not detected at a sufficient level to produce a false positive (e.g., a normal amount of ingested poppy seeds will NOT trigger a positive for “opiates”)
Are easily distinguishable as “false” in the laboratory
Some activities, such as a non-pot-smoker being sealed in a phone booth with four marijuana smokers who smoke pot non-stop for eight hours, “might” trigger a false positive, but for most people this scenario does not even come close to being a valid concern. What does occasionally happen to cause a positive, though, is properly used prescription medicines or some other legitimate justification for testing “positive” on a drug test. This is where the Medical Review Officer (MRO) becomes invaluable in the process of “confirming” lab positives. The MRO speaks directly with the employee involved. The MRO gives the tested individual a chance to prove (e.g., by presenting a prescription) that the drugs found in their system were legitimately prescribed. In such cases where proof is presented, then, the individual (although found ” positive” by the lab test) will – instead – be officially (and correctly) reported by the MRO as “negative” on their drug test.
6) Is drug testing legal? There are some restrictions in a few states, but employers and schools generally have a right to establish a written drug testing policy that requires employees and students be drug free – not possess or use drugs – while on the job, at school, or while participating in or attending job or school related activities. For an outline of drug-testing laws in all 50 U.S. States plus all U.S. Territories, click here.
7) How common is drug testing? In 1983, only 3% of the Fortune 200 companies were testing one or more classes of job applicants or employees. By 1991, that number had climbed to 97%. More and more school districts, too, are beginning to drug test students, especially athletes, since the July 1995 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found such testing of students was/is “legal”.
8) But is it any school’s business what a student does in the privacy of his or her own home on a Saturday night? First, there is no Constitutional or other legally protected right to engage in illegal conduct in the privacy of one’s own home or anyone else’s. Second, as a parent, it IS (or should be) YOUR business. Third, you easily see the effects when “straight” students begin using drugs: more frequent illness and absences, dropping grades, “trouble” with teachers, other students, parents.
9) But don’t many people use drugs without losing control? Some start that way, but drug-use tends to escalate with time. Using “a little” turns into using “a lot”. Also, there is often a “gateway” effect: the initial use of what many perceive as less serious drugs (e.g., marijuana) can lead to the use of more serious drugs (e.g., cocaine); sporadic use can develop into chronic use; and people who never considered addiction a possibility for themselves personally can become desperate addicts. Further, the psychology of addiction is such that it includes a process of denial; addicts very seldom admit their addiction voluntarily.
10) What about drug or alcohol-related crime at school by students? Drug abuse has a major impact on “schoolyard” crime. Students who have a $300-$800 a month (or, per week) drug habit do not usually support it with “just” their McDonald’s paycheck. GM, for instance has arrested over 500 employees for dealing (selling) drugs on the job. If you have drug-using students in your school, you probably have student drug dealers in your school.
11) OK, so cocaine is serious, but just how dangerous can marijuana really be? Marijuana can be a highly addictive drug. It is retained in the body several days and can cause mental and physical impairment long after the “high” wears off. A study at Stanford University had airline pilots smoke relatively weak government-issued marijuana cigarettes, and then tested them on computerized flight simulators. Many pilots had simulated airline “crashes” right after their marijuana use. More alarming, it also resulted in simulated “crashes” 24 hours later, when every pilot reported no residual effects and said they had no “apprehensions” about flying!
12) What about student alcohol abuse? Among eighth, 10th, and 12th-graders surveyed in 1999, 15 percent, 26 percent, and 31 percent respectively reported they had engaged in binge drinking – quickly “downing” five or more drinks – “sometime during the previous two weeks” .
13) How long do drugs stay in your system? In very large part, it will vary depending on a person’s physiological makeup (e.g., height, weight, age, current state of health, state of mind). Other considerations include the person’s “frequency” (1x per day? 3-5x per day?) and “quantity” of use and the “length of time” (days? weeks? months?) of their drug-use prior to testing. However, for most people, detectable levels of the following drugs stay in the body for these periods of time:
Marijuana, 2-5 days (the daily, heavy user can sometimes be detected up to 30+ days)
Cocaine, 1-2 days
Amphetamines, 1-2 days
Opiates, 1-3 days
Phencyclidine (PCP), 1-8 days
Alcohol, less than 24 hours
For chronic heavy users, drugs (other than alcohol) can be retained in the system much longer after their last use—up to 60 days in extreme situations.
14) I am certain that my children don’t do ANY drugs! How does drug abuse affect me? Drug abuse affects all citizens in the form of higher taxes, higher insurance rates, more crime, higher health care costs, and higher consumer prices. General Motors estimates that drug abuse costs them one billion ($1,000,000,000) dollars every year! Surely you realize that GM (and Ford, Chrysler, et al) MUST offset that expense by increasing the price you and I are required to pay for their cars!
15) Does drug testing stop or at least help reduce drug-abuse? There are numerous success stories in both the private and public sectors. One is the U.S. Navy’s: a decrease to only 4% (down from 48%) of its members engaged in illicit drug use. This is specifically due to Navy’s implementation back in the 1980’s of a comprehensive drug abuse prevention program- including on-going, random drug testing – that continues even today.
16) What specimens are commonly used for drug testing? Urine specimen analysis is the most common. Blood analysis is not common because it’s “invasive” (needle used). “Oral” fluids analysis has recently become available, however it does not do as good a job detecting marijuana-use as is provided by testing urine. Hair specimen analysis is gaining in use. It will detect drug-use as far back as ninety (90) days, much longer than it is detectable in the urine. The San Bernardino Archdiocese of Catholic schools – largest in the nation – uses the hair analysis method for testing all of their middle and high school students.
17) I’m a single parent. How much will drug testing my child cost me? If you can bring your son or daughter to our corporate offices in Costa Mesa, California, we will test them for $25 (urine) or $50 (hair). For your reference: the average testing fee nationwide ranges $45-$65 (urine) and $90-$150 (hair). Providing student drug testing at reduced rates for the student’s parents is a local community-service contribution of our company.
If you are a parent who lives outside of Orange County, California and would like to secure affordable drug testing kits that can be used for testing your children at your home, then click here and go to the page on our site that explains the features of our ImmediaTest™ drug test kits that we can ship to you at your home or office.
Finally, if you suspect that your child is a “Youth At Risk” – that they abusing drugs, or, even if they are not, if you suspect that they are frequently “exposed” to other children who abuse drugs – there IS something you can do about it. According to many experts, to be an effective, hands-on, “Parent Taking Action”, at least 10 of the following 12 practices must be followed. You must consistently:
Monitor what your children are watching on TV.
Monitor their use of the Internet AND e-mail.
Put restrictions on CDs they buy.
Know where your children are after school and during weekends.
Be told the truth about your children’s whereabouts.
Be aware of your children’s academic performance.
Impose a curfew.
Make it clear that you would be ”extremely upset” if your child used marijuana.
Eat dinner with your children six or seven nights a week.
Turn the TV off during dinner.
Assign regular chores for your child.
Have an adult present when the child comes home from school.