JUST HOW accurate are drug tests?

No student has tested positive for drug use since drug tests were implemented in 2006, data from the Health Service showed.

Health Service director Ma. Salve Olalia said she has not received reports of illegal drug use on campus, indicating that drug tests in UST are effective.

But Dangerous Drugs Boards (DDB) vice chairman Rommel Garcia, an alumnus of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, said otherwise.

He said the random drug test is more of an assessment than detection. “As far as detecting drug users, you can never find every drug user by means of random drug testing,” Garcia said. “But if they know that there are random drug tests, they will have a little fear.”

The University implemented random drug tests in the second semester of academic year 2006 to 2007 in compliance with Section 36, Article III of Republic Act (RA) 9165, also known as Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002; and Commission on Higher Education Memorandum Order (CMO) 19 Series of 2003, which was in compliance with DDB Regulation No. 6 Series of 2003 or the “General Guidelines for Random Drug Testing of Tertiary Students.”

The following year, freshmen were required to undergo mandatory drug testing.

“Students of secondary and tertiary schools shall, pursuant to the related rules and regulations as contained in the school's student handbook and with notice to the parents, undergo a random drug testing: Provided, that all drug testing expenses whether in public or private schools under this Section will be borne by the government,” RA 9165 states.

“The guidelines shall be applicable to the random drug testing of students in public and private secondary, tertiary or higher education institutions and post-secondary technical vocational schools. All procedures undertaken shall take into account the ideals of fairness and rehabilitation, and not isolation of the drug dependent. The school must not violate the constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and self-incrimination,” CMO 19 says.

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Latest random drug test results in all tertiary-level schools nationwide released by the Department of Health (DOH) showed that only 0.4 percent of the total tertiary student population in the country use drugs.

However, since the drug test uses random sampling to select participants, there is a huge chance that drug users are not included in the samples.

Garcia admitted the possibility of missing out drug users in random drug tests, and said nothing could be done about it. But more students can be included in the random drug test if the budget is increased, he said.

Olalia also admitted that not all freshmen are tested.

“There were times when the mandatory drug test was suspended because the UST Hospital Clinical Pathology Laboratory had to comply with the DOH in upgrading some facilities,” Olalia said.

The mandatory drug test has drawn flak because it invades students’ privacy.

Garcia pointed out that “the University has the responsibility to protect students from drugs and from those who are already using [drugs].”

The Varsitarian was able to interview some Thomasians who are drug users and have yet to take drug tests.

Martin (not his real name), a second-year student, claims he uses marijuana because he is still young and is supposed to enjoy the substance.

“[Drugs] take you to places a normal consciousness wouldn’t even be capable of creating,” said Martin, adding that marijuana helps him “relax and sleep.”

Third-year student Joseph (not his real name) said he has been using drugs since high school. He said he started it out of curiosity and the desire to experiment.

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“A friend of mine, who was already a user, introduced me to drugs. I continued using it since I was supplied by my neighbor [with drugs],” he said.

He said he had used marijuana for several times, and claimed that from his experience, its effects, such as distorted perception and memory lapse, are “temporary.”

Joseph, however, denied he is a drug addict, claiming he is “only a user.” He said he won’t stop using marijuana, claiming there are no known side effects.

“As long as I know that [marijuana] is not detrimental to health, I will continue using it,” he said.

Olalia, however, said these illegal substances are dangerous to one’s health.

“Marijuana can cause cancer, and shabu may cause brain damage,” said Olalia.

According to the website of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), marijuana, also known as “weed,” and methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu,” are two known illegal substances that produce a dreamy state of consciousness in which ideas seem disconnected, unanticipated, and free-flowing.

Illegal drug users may feel a sense of well-being and relaxation, but these may cause impairment of memory and short-term cognitive functioning, impairment of motor skills, dullness, and susceptibility to infections. These drugs also reduce sperm production, alter sperm shape and mobility, and may cause sterility to both sexes.

“Full blown psychosis,” characterized by presence of paranoid delusions, and auditory and visual hallucinations, may occur with prolonged use of drugs.

Rita (not her real name), a graduating student who also admitted to using illegal drugs, said drug-related transactions involve “creativity.”

“There are code words like ‘dope,’ ‘pot,’ and ‘Mary Jane’ for marijuana, while ‘assets’ are the people you can trust and sell drugs to,” she said. “I know there are many code words, but I don’t know much about them.”

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Rita said she usually buys “fivers” or P500 worth of marijuana, which is usually 50 grams.

Data from PDEA showed that selling prices of other illegal substances in the drug market are higher than that of marijuana, which is the cheapest at P12 to P100 per gram.

As of March 2011, shabu is the highest-priced drug per gram, at P15,000. Cocaine costs P5,500 per gram and ecstasy, P1,700, data from PDEA said.

Drug prevention

Garcia said there are two major “pillars” in the campaign against drugs: drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction.

Drug supply reduction concerns law enforcement, and focuses on taking away illegal drugs from the market.

Drug demand reduction, meanwhile, sees to it that demand for drugs decrease through counseling and education programs.

“You discourage people from taking drugs and let them know the side effects of drugs,” said Garcia.

PDEA, in its latest annual report on the National Drug Situation, said it has intensified its campaign against illegal drugs.

“[The] agency sustained its preventive education campaign … through the conduct of 1,591 lectures and seminars, 225 campus tours, 1,012 photo exhibits, and attendance to 1,163 meetings and conferences,” PDEA said in a press release. Nigel Bryant B. Evangelista and Lorenzo Luigi T. Gayya with reports from Marnee A. Gamboa

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