Jen, a popular eighth student and former member of the honor roll, had a secret. For months, she had been hiding alcohol bottles under her desk at school. She'd also amassed quite the stash of alcohol in her closet at home.
Although Jen was consuming somewhere around two pints of alcohol every day, no one had a clue she was binge drinking...at least until her mother found her passed out in her room, choking on her own vomit as a result of alcohol poisoning.
While Jen was rushed to the hospital and eventually made a full recovery, stories like hers raise a very important question: What can be done to stop drug and alcohol abuse in our children before it starts?
Taking the Lead
The Massachusetts state senate is on the verge of breaking ground to address this question. They are expected to vote this month on a bill that would mandate all public school districts in Massachusetts to conduct drug screens on students between seventh and 10th grade for potential drug use. The bill is essentially taking an already existing program - known as Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) - and expanding it across the state.
SBIRT is already at work in 10 Massachusetts public schools. Currently, however, drug screenings in these participating schools don’t require students to be tested for drugs. They merely involve a designated person, such as a school nurse or trained psychologist, have a single conversation with a student to determine whether he or she is engaging in "risky behaviors" or at risk for developing a drug problem.
Parents in these schools are sent detailed letters explaining the types of questions their children will be asked, as well as how to opt out of the program if they choose. However, those who choose to stay in wouldn’t necessarily be notified about screening results. Parents would only be contacted in the extreme cases of current drug use or dependence.
“The intent is to identify students who need help and to try to move them in a way that they will want to go into treatment. You can’t force them,” said Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan, Democrat of Leominster, the main backer of the provision.
A Focus on Prevention
Unlike the current SBIRT program, the newly proposed statewide model in Massachusetts includes provisions that are aimed at prevention. These include mandating doctors to provide justification on why they are prescribing certain extended-release opioids, requiring insurance companies to provide information on non-opiate pain-management alternatives and allowing people to voluntarily put themselves on a do-not-prescribe list for opioids, with exceptions for emergencies.
The rush to stamp out potential drug abuse before it begins is largely sparked by a huge rise in opioid overdose deaths across Massachusetts and nation as a whole. The state Department of Public Health reported last summer that an estimated 1,256 state residents died from opioid overdoses last year.
The question is how do parents feel about mandatory drug screening in schools? And is it necessary for schools to take this proactive stance in stamping out drug and alcohol abuse among our nation's youth? What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below.
Additional Reading: Back to School: 9 Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Drug Use
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