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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2003

Drug tests won't cure 'disease'

By Mike Coleman
President of Like A Child and the host of the "Like A Child" talk show on KUMU AM 1500, every Wednesday at 10 a.m.

For all of its good intentions, the proposal to drug-test public school students begs cautious, open-minded deliberation.

Without a drastically increased and effective treatment response to the kids who test positive, what are we supposed to do with the literally thousands of busted kids we already know are using drugs?

As Hina Mauka's "Andy" Anderson reports in the Feb. 3 Advertiser, the "2000 Hawai'i Drug Use Study" by the Department of Health estimates that 12,000 Hawai'i students currently need substance-abuse treatment compared to the 1,500 now receiving it. Anderson asks a very sane question: "What good will drug testing do if we don't pay for prevention and treatment?"

Drugs tear at the very fabric of our society, fracturing our families and shattering our children's promise, but in waiting until our kids are already using drugs, we have already missed our best chance to make a difference. No one can fault Sen. Robert Bunda, or any caring parent, for trying to keep our schools drug-free. But the only practical way to do that is to put our real efforts into a practical, preventive model.

Ultimately, drug testing is problem-oriented instead of solution-oriented. It is a knee-jerk, after-the-fact response. Until we truly shift our emphasis back to the basics of prevention — to better schools, youth development and community outreach to the high-risk kids who become most drug users — there will never be enough Band-aid programs and prisons for the kids who test positive.

We have waged a senseless "War on Drugs" for 30 years to become precisely this: the most incarcerated nation in the history of mankind and with little or no impact to show for it. We, the people who seek a real solution, have seen enough of this ridiculous war and have no wish to widen it to our schools. We do not wish to tell our children, whom we love, that we will now compound their already difficult confusion, disillusion and discontent with distrust.

The best way to prevent cancer is to eat healthy food, and the best way to prevent drug abuse is to raise healthy children. Children who use drugs are not the problem; they are the symptom of the problem.

Until we realize that the real source of our dysfunctional youth is our collective neglect and do something about that, it will never matter how many students fail a drug test.