By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
When Trinity High School’s mandatory random drug-testing policy went into effect in the fall of 2015, the opioid epidemic now plaguing Kentucky was not yet a household conversation.
The school wasn’t necessarily targeting the growing epidemic at the time, but it’s becoming one more reason to celebrate the policy’s success, said school leaders.
“It (opioid epidemic) gives us real pause. Thank goodness we are doing this. A 25-year-old doesn’t one day wake up and become a heroin addict. It starts slow, with experimenting and dabbling,” said Dr. Robert J. Mullen, Trinity president, during a July 20 interview.
The testing policy seems to have had a positive effect on the student body, Dan Zoeller, Trinity principal said. The percentage of students testing positive for drugs and alcohol decreased from the first to second year.
In the 2015-2016 school year, 600 students were tested and 24 (or four percent) tested positive for drugs or alcohol. During the 2016-2017 school year, a larger sample size of 800 students was tested and 24 students (or three percent) tested positive.
Along with the decreased percentage of students who tested positive, Trinity faculty and staff are now subject to random testing. In addition, the school board reached a unanimous consensus to be tested as well, Mullen said.
The school has also decided to prohibit alcohol at faculty events and alumni gatherings on campus, including the school’s annual dinner and auction.
School officials said they plan to test 1,000 students during the upcoming school year, with the goal of testing every student eventually. Trinity has a student body of about 1,200.
“We don’t celebrate the positives (tests) when they happen, but it’s an opportunity to get them help,” said Dan Zoeller, Trinity principal. “Parents have been very positive. For some, it’s a relief to know, if they suspected.”
Following a positive test, Zoeller said, school officials sit down with the parents and student and discuss programs available in the city or offer the school’s counseling services.
“We’re offering accountability. They know we will be testing again in 100 days,” Zoeller said.
Testing is conducted by collecting a small sample of hair from the student’s scalp. A test of the hair will be able to detect drug use dating back about 90 days.
Tests detect binge drinking, cocaine, marijuana, opiates (including heroin, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone), methamphetamines, ecstasy (MDMA), Eve (MDEA), phencyclidine (PCP) and oxymorphone (opana).
Mullen said two factors were important in the school’s decision to implement the policy.
“Brains aren’t finishing being wired at this age in teens. The chemicals in drugs affect the wiring of the brain and train the brain to crave the chemical,” Mullen said.
And, secondly, scientific data suggests the longer you can delay a young person from using drugs, Mullen said, the better the chance they will not face addiction problems later in life.
Mullen and Zoeller said the drug-testing policy is one piece in a larger education and prevention effort.
“Besides preparing them academically, we try to — as our mission statement reads — form ‘men of faith and men of character,’ ” he said. “This is one part of a huge tapestry of programs.”
Mullen said Trinity’s approach embodies “what we as Christians should do.”
“What we are trying to do is help students. The underlying idea here is redemption; it’s not something punitive,” Mullen said.
Zoeller said the testing hasn’t eliminated every issue with drugs or alcohol.
“Teenagers are still impulsive, but this makes them think twice,” he said.