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Needed, but unwelcome

April 27, 1999

You've talked to your children about the dangers of illegal drug use and you've made sure that their school's curriculum included a course in the program called D.A.R.E. - drug abuse resistance education. And, of course, you watch for any of the telltale signs that your child might be involved in substance abuse. Is there anything more you can do?

Maybe there is. The Chambersburg, Pa. Area School District, which has watched with concern as a supply of heroin began making its way into the community, is considering a drug-testing program that would be voluntary for some students and mandatory for others, like athletes and band members.

Students who volunteer for the program and test "clean" would be given discounts at local businesses, while athletes and those participating in extracurricular programs would have to undergo mandatory random testing to remain eligible for their sports and activities.

The voluntary part of this proposal doesn't bother us, but the mandatory part is sure to be challenged by a group like the American Civil Liberties Union, which will probably argue that the program would in effect force students to incriminate themselves, violating their Fifth Amendment rights.

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The best counter to that argument is that allowing drug-abusing students to compete athletically puts their health at risk, along with the health of those playing against them. Framed as a safety and a liability issue, the program just might pass constitutional muster.

That doesn't mean we welcome such a development, which is actually an admission of failure. Not only has government been unable to stop the flow of illegal drugs, despite spending millions in the effort, but society has failed to persuade many of its young people that they don't need to chemically alter their thought processes to have fulfilling lives.

And so, after failing to inspire young people to do the right thing, society will test them to make sure they do. As we said, it may be necessary, but no one should say that this development is welcome.

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