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Putnam County students' drug test results mostly negative

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Fewer than 1 percent of students tested positive last year in Putnam County Schools' random drug screening program.

The school system tested 1,072 of the 3,000 students signed up for the screening program last year.

Any Putnam sixth- through 12th-grader who wants to participate in an extracurricular activity or drive themselves to school must be registered in the program. Parents also can sign up their children.

In all, there were about 5,000 sixth- through 12th-graders in Putnam schools last year.

Penny Fisher, the school system's assistant superintendent for pupil services, said she could not provide any specifics about the drug testing result for fear of identifying students. She would not say which middle or high schools produced the positive results, or what drugs were found in students' systems.

The tests check students for amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, phencyclidine, barbiturates, cocaine, opiates and marijuana.

"We test for what typical drug tests test for," said Danielle Gillispie, Putnam's coordinator of drug prevention and education.

Gillispie said the school system occasionally tests students for alcohol and steroids but not every time, since the tests are a little more expensive.

The program began in the 2010-2011 school year, but Fisher said schools did only a few tests that year. The 2011-2012 school year was the program's first full year.

The school system allocates $50,000 a year for random student drug testing. Gillispie said the school system tests as many students as the budget allows.

Putnam schools hired an outside contractor, Huntington-based Health Research Systems, to conduct the tests last year. Gillispie said the company also was responsible for selecting students for testing.

Students are tested using saliva samples. After sitting under supervision for 10 minutes to make sure they don't have anything in their mouths, testers place two swabs in the student's mouth to collect a sample.

"The saliva is quick and painless, and you don't have to worry about anybody not being able to produce a sample for you," Gillispie said.

The samples then are transported to a laboratory for testing.

The school system switched contractors this year after Sport Safe of Columbus, Ohio, submitted a lower bid than Health Research Systems. The testing process remains the same, however.

"It's totally out of the board of education's hands," she said.

Students remain in the testing pool even if they have been selected previously. Fisher said she doubts any student was retested, however, because of the large number of students in the pool.

The first time students test positive, the school system notifies their parents. Gillispie said she has a meeting with the student and his or her parents to discuss whether the drug use was a one-time mistake or an ongoing problem.

"The first time is basically an intervention," she said.

Students are not punished for their first offense but are suspended from their extracurricular activity for 14 days if their follow-up test comes back positive. Student drivers also are suspended from driving for 14 days after a second positive test.

If students are positive for drugs in their second follow-up test, they are suspended from driving or extracurricular activities for a year.

"Luckily we did not have any second or third offenses," Gillispie said.

Students are never penalized in school for testing positive, no matter how many positive tests they produce.

Officials say testing already has caused a drop in drug use among students.

Each year, West Virginia students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades take the "Pride survey," which measures their alcohol, drug and tobacco use.

Gillispie said drug use consistently drops year-to-year. But the school noticed a significant decrease from the 2010-2011 school year to 2011-2012, the school system's first year with the random drug-testing program.

In the 2010-2011 school year, alcohol use among eighth-graders dropped 2.8 percent, tobacco use dropped 0.2 percent and drug use increased by 1 percent. Alcohol use among 11th-graders dropped 4.8 percent that year, tobacco use dropped 3.3 percent and drug use dropped 3.6 percent.

One year later, eighth-graders reported a 1.6 decrease in tobacco use last school year, a 6.5 percent drop in alcohol use and a 5 percent drop in drug use. Eleventh-graders reported a 3.8 percent drop in tobacco use, an 8.8 percent drop in alcohol use and a 9.4 decrease in drug use.

"I believe we've given kids an opportunity to say 'no,' " Fisher said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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