US Deputy Drug Czar Speaks on Random Student Drug Testing

Published: Mar. 27, 2007 at 5:08 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2007 at 5:25 PM HST
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Dr. Bertha Madras
Dr. Bertha Madras

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Waikiki will serve as the backdrop to an important discussion on how to prevent our children from getting involved with illegal drugs. An all-day summit on random student drug testing will be held at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel Tuesday. Here to tell us some more is the deputy White House drug czar, Dr. Bertha Madras.

Marvin Buenconsejo: Thank you for joining us, doctor. When did you arrive in the islands?

Dr. Bertha Madras: I arrived Sunday night.

MB: Put you to work right away?

BM: Put me to work right away, and that's what I'm here for. I'm not here to enjoy this beautiful, beautiful sunshine and ocean.

MB: Well despite our paradise settings, yes we are plagued with a terrible drug problem, especially when it comes to crystal meth. Let's talk first of all about random drug testing for students and your overall thoughts on that.

BM: My overall thought is random student drug testing above all is a form of prevention. It gives kids an excuse to say no. Kids report, in Hawaii, the Mid-Pacific Institute for example, they have random drug testing and they say it gives them an excuse to say no. So that's number one. Number two is if kids in fact test positive, it helps them get parents involved and a counselor involved. And if kids are in fact addicted, it helps them get specialty treatment. So it works for everyone.

MB: You had mentioned Mid-Pac over in the Manoa area. But when the school implemented its policy it was not without controversy. Parents were up in arms about invasion of privacy. Your thoughts to those criticisms?

BM: Think about weighing invasion of privacy with what the consequences of drugs are. For example, under the influence of drugs an intoxicated kid can get into accidents, can fail at school, can get into violence and delinquency, can do a whole shopping list of terrible things to themselves. And they could also become addicted. And the adolescent brain is not formed, drugs can make them addicted at a much higher rate than other people using. So we have to protect kids. Weigh privacy against the rights of a child to have a healthy development.

MB: Back in 2003, our state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have done that, that would have permitted random drug testing among students. Here we are four years later, what will it take for our lawmakers...or what would you like to see our legislators do in terms of addressing this problem?

BM: In '02 the Supreme Court ruled that testing is legal for kids engaged in extra-curricular activities. So now you have the weight of the Supreme Court behind you. And this is a different era. What we know is there is too much drugs used by kids. More than half of kids have tried illicit drugs and prescription drug abuse is going up. We have to attack this problem and we have to do it with as many strategies as we can. Student drug testing is one of the most effective strategies.

MB: With apologies, we're running low on time. I have to ask you, you mentioned strategies, today is going to be an all-day summit. What do you hope is going to be accomplished today in Waikiki?

BM: We hope that parents, educators, everyone who comes will learn how to implement a program, what the legal issues are, how you can get help, how you can get funding - everything you need to know to implement a program. And then let the schools decide what to do.

MB: Dr. Madras, thank you for joining us.