CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Leaders at Falls High School are working to start a club organized and populated by students that requires initial and random drug tests to remain a member.
High School Dean of Students Brady Harrison, In-School Therapist Rachael Muster and School Resource Officer Ed Dennis gave the Board of Education a presentation in May on a student-led drug prevention initiative they would like to see established this fall. The program is called Drug Free Clubs of America.
Drug Free Clubs of America was founded by firefighters in the Greater Cincinnati area, with the "promising idea that if teen drug use never begins, it never has to be defeated," according to the website drugfreeclubs.com.
Harrison said the presentation to the Board of Education was identical to one given to freshmen, sophomores and juniors, to which their reaction was "overwhelming." Harrison said students are "eager" to get the program started.
"This is a form of voluntary drug testing," Harrison said. "When people hear 'drug testing' -- and this is something we want to emphasize -- the last thing we want to do with this club is test people who are taking drugs. That's not what this club is about at all. It's exactly the opposite."
Harrison said a Drug Free Club of America "gives an incentive to students who are making good choices and choosing to stay away from drugs." Unfortunately, many students are not making those good choices, he said. When students were asked if they knew a peer with a drug problem, nearly all of them raised a hand.
"There's obviously a problem this club is interested in trying to fix," Harrison said, adding he would like to see the school district and the community get behind the effort to start such a club. "It's a way for students to be rewarded for good decisions," he said.
Harrison said he, Muster and Dennis are sharing this information because there is a "huge" drug problem in Cuyahoga Falls and Summit County. "One of the things we're trying to stress with the kids is we're not trying to catch those kids who are taking drugs," he said. "It's a fact that you can't get addicted to drugs if you never start taking them."
To become a member of the club, a student has to submit to a drug test, Harrison said. Once they pass the test, they are given a club ID card that, with the help of the community, will entitle its holder to perks like a free pizza or an oil change.
Drug Free Clubs of America is a nationwide organization with successful clubs all around the country, Harrison said. A benefit to being a member of the club is it looks good on a resume; it helps young people get hired.
Harrison further emphasized the club is confidential and high school staff will not administer the drug tests, nor will they have access to drug test results. An outside medical agency will come in and take charge of testing students.
"If there is a positive [urine] sample, we will not know about it," he said. "It's not something they will show us. It will go to an outside agency doctors who will try to get [the students] help; counselors for the parents."
According to Harrison, students have shown an interest in joining a Drug Free Club because they want to make their parents and coaches proud. "This will not work if it's not student-led," he said. " this is the best process," Harrison said, adding there has been "overwhelming" feedback from clubs that have found success.
Students can use their membership in the club as an "out" if they are pressured to do drugs, Harrison said. Club members can say no to their peers and tell them, "There's a very good chance I could be randomly tested. This isn't really worth it, and my parents, coaches and employer know about my commitment."
Muster said when she polled next year's sophomores, juniors and seniors on their interest in this club, 450 students, about 30 percent of the high school student body, came forward and said they want to get involved. That number of students, she added, does not include incoming freshmen.
The Drug Free Club of America has a $300 start-up fee, Muster said. Membership costs $67 per student with the district covering all but $15. Grants will be applied for and donations will be sought, she said. "We will do fundraising to pay for this," said Muster.
Officer Dennis said the need is great. "I've been in the schools for 6 ° years," he said. "I've watched these kids grow up The problems we have out in our community are horrible. We average about one overdose a day in our city."
Dennis said the situation is at the point now where every freshman that he talks to knows someone who is addicted to heroin and almost half of the classes knows someone who overdosed and died.
"This is a major issue, so I do not want to see money become a problem with the kids who want this," said Dennis. "I don't care if 5 percent of the kids want to sign up, that's a positive." He said 30 percent will "go much higher" when the freshmen arrive this fall.
"I'm going to be working with Miss Muster and Mr. Harrison to get our community more involved," Dennis said. He said he is talking with local business leaders and asking them to help get this project off the ground.