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May 4, 2004 - The New York Press (NY)

Testing, Testing

By Daniel Forbes

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The White House might want to pay attention to the conferences sponsored by its Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

None of the doctors leading last week's gabfest on "Substance Abuse and the American Family" had a kind word for the administration's push to institute random drug testing for all students.

The treatment mavens were gathered by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) -- a $70-million, New York-based Beltway bandit that's garnered the respectability of a Columbia University imprimatur along with funding from big pharmaceutical companies and 12 different government entities.

It boasts "the brightest group of individuals ever assembled under one roof to deal with" substance abuse.

One young panelist -- ketamine his particular route to transcendence -- spoke of the salutary episode when his parents had him first jailed and then locked on a psycho ward. (This, though he was working two jobs at the time and doing well in school.)

Cornell Medical Center's Dr. Ralph I. Lopez said parents should ban all booze from the home if they expect their kids to shun reefer. ("You can't expect kids to go to church if you don't go yourself.")

The prospect of widespread and ever-more sophisticated testing was greeted with disdain. Duke University's Dr. Cynthia Kuhn said that random drug testing doesn't actually decrease student drug use. Rather, it just reflects "the country's sense of desperation about drugs" and is part of the Bush administration's "punitive and legalistic approach."

Said Dr. Ross B. Brower, a Cornell psychiatrist: "Testing to find a lot of low-level marijuana users [yields] pretty useless information."

The 120 attendees didn't raise a clamor for citizens to offer up their bodily fluids. They were more concerned with how families could pay for treatment.

One panelist whose kids had gone haywire said parents remain in denial because they can't afford treatment. A counselor in the audience described the typical four days of in-patient treatment covered by many insurance plans: two group sessions and a single appointment with a therapist.

There was a call for the HHS assistant secretary in the room, Wade F. Horn, to respond, but he remained seated. Earlier, he'd spoken of family dinners growing up that lasted for three hours or more.

As a result, all of the seven kids in his family had achieved matrimony and none were substance abusers. ("Family Day -- A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children," is CASA's current big push.)

Interestingly, CASA let the White House pay for this month's white paper on marijuana that bears the subtitle "Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?" But it goes off the reservation, stating that medical marijuana use should be decided by doctors and scientists.

Has anyone told Karl Rove about this?

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