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New drug screening procedures seek to help students

Mahi Kandage, Sports Editor

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In response to the raging opioid epidemic in the United States, Massachusetts has issued an unfunded state mandate requiring schools to perform drug screenings in two grades. The screenings are not formal drug tests, but rather a series of simple questions asking students about their involvement with opioids. The tests intend to detect early substance abuse problems in young students or their families and offer support.

The testing, which is only for the eighth and tenth grades, will run throughout the week of March 19. The school nurses will be administering the questions and will determine if students need further questioning or follow-up services. Administration recognizes the sensitivity and gravity of the topic, but must still go through with the screening.

 “I think it can be awkward for students to be asked those questions, but it’s a mandate by Massachusetts, something we have to do,” said Principal James Antonelli.

So far, the screenings have received positive feedback from districts such as Haverhill and Wilmington, whose administration praised the mandate for enabling students to ask for help from an adult figure. The intent of the questioning is not to punish, but to offer support, counseling, and advice for those struggling with substance abuse.

“It’s really just about checking in with students to make sure if there’s anything you’re worried about, whether it’s an opioid use at home by somebody in your family that you don’t know how to manage, opioid use yourself […]” he said.

According to Antonelli, students will suffer no consequences from asking for help, or admitting to opioid or drug usage.

Administration made the decision to have the screenings done by the school nurses instead of the guidance department to make the questions less invasive, and to prevent awkwardness between a student and their counselor.

Antonelli explained, “We were thinking about that at first, and we said probably the best thing to do is because the nurses have good relationships with most of the students in the building, but not as intimate as a guidance counselor.”

Though the questions are strictly to support and help students, Antonelli acknowledges that some students may be reluctant to be honest, due to the difficult nature of the subject. However, the school’s intention is only to create a safe, consequence-free environment for teens to share any issues they may have.

Antonelli emphasized, “If you need help, we’re here to help you.”

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