Drug testing in schools, a controversial topic at the best of times.
The gist of the article is that more kids have been caught with drugs in schools in New Zealand (particularly cannabis) than ever before, police having brought in sniffer dogs and drug testing.
Logic says that bringing in sniffer dogs and drug testing is likely to catch more people with drugs than just guessing, which is what they were doing before. Yet, for some reason the fact that more people have been caught seems to be evidence of some kind of drug epidemic. I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning here.
I suggest that the number of kids with drugs in school has probably increased along with the number of people using drugs in wider society,* and that catching more people is a sign of nothing other than they’ve got better at catching them.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the use of drugs in children. I think anyone using drugs (including the legal ones such as caffeine and alcohol) before their brain, personality and identity has finished developing is taking a gamble with their future mental health, never mind the obvious difficulties associated with being stoned while trying to learn. All drug taking is risky, but kids aren’t equipped to assess those risks accurately.
However, prohibition is obviously not stopping them. It’s good to see some schools using ‘alternative action contracts’ – which involve some drug testing, some community work, some study into the use and abuse of their drug of choice, and at least some counselling. But most schools seem to be taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, which kicks kids out (read: marginalises them) for using drugs, and places drugs squarely on the ‘crime’ side of the fence.
“Fair enough,” you say, “Drug use is a crime.” And you’re right. But sadly, giving the kid a bad school record so that the only schools that will take them are those that desperately need students, labelling them ‘druggie’ at an early age and then walking away going “Hey, we got rid of the deviant element, we’ve done our job, the kiddies are safe from these criminals” does not actually address any of the reasons these kids are using drugs in the first place.
Drugs are a health issue. They affect mental, physical and social health if abused. Those kids smoking drugs in the playground are not invading anyone else’s human rights, hurting others or stealing – where is the victim of this crime?. The only reason what they are doing is a crime is because legislation has made it so – but the effects on their health and learning are measurable and tangible. The victim of this crime is the same person as the perpetrator – yet the system continues to punish them as criminals instead of offering them help as victims.
To the schools, I suggest that continuing to condone punitive approaches to dealing with drug users is going to continue to achieve the same result – which is to discourage nobody, marginalise those who get caught, and set young people against those who would be educating them at an early age. Even the alternative contracts are seen by youth aid workers as ‘fair punishment’ – not ‘offering help’ or ‘addressing the issue’. It’s all about punishing people for wrongdoing.
Because if people do wrong, they’re bad people, right? And if they’re bad people, we don’t have to care about helping them because they don’t deserve it, right? It’s so much easier that way.
Schools are (in part) the places where people’s attitudes are formed. I wonder how many people caught up in this sniffer-dog, drug-test, expulsion/punishment situation will go on to have a friendly and cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with society?
* Drug uptake has consistently increased under prohibition.