Monday, June 18, 2007

Spray bottles.

What do you think of when you read the words "spray bottles", "war on drugs", and "students" in the same news story? I only ask because when I read the words, this heavy dread settled in my stomach. I imagined school administrators going around hallways with water bottles, squirting suspicious looking students.

Faculty member: NO! (squirt) No drugs! Bad boy! Drugs are BAD! (squirt)
Student: AHH what the hell?!
FM: (squirt, squirt) No swearing at faculty members!
Student: Jesus Christ! Okay, I'm sorry, but what's with the spray?
(Then, if it's a religious school, FM squirts Student for using the Lord's name in vain.)

FORTUNATELY, things are not so bad as I imagined. The spray bottles in question are actually being used to detect drugs, not discipline drug users. From Reidsville, NC:
Rockingham County schools last week tested a new aerosol technology that detects drug residue. The technology will be used in the schools this fall.
Okiedoke! So how does it work?
A federal grant is paying for the aerosol system, which uses a variety of sprays that react to narcotic particles as small as 1 microgram. Testing involves wiping an area of suspected drug residue and spraying it with the drug-detecting agent. The pad will change color depending on the type of substance that is found... The testing can be done on students' personal items, such as like book bags, pencils, door handles, keys or cell phones.
I see. Which brings me to the question, how does it not work? According to the article,
  • It works best with marijuana. So the effectiveness of detection seems inversely proportional to the harm caused by the drug detected. Bravo.
  • The tests cannot stand as evidence in court, only as a probable cause for searches. But, even if students are in a visibly altered state, administrators can do nothing except call parents. So... wait, when is it actually necessary to use the stuff?
  • Administrators can only take action when a student is caught with narcotics, or when another student alerts administrators. Well, that takes care of the invasion of privacy issue a little. But then, if they already see that the student has narcotics, then what's the point of the spray? Also,
  • Secondary transmissions and false positives will be a concern, so initial positive results will not be considered seriously. That... comes so close to making sense. I mean, at least they realize false positives are going to be an issue. The director of Safety and Drug-Free Schools for the county even says, "Just because a kid has residue on his hands doesn't mean he's ingested a drug." So what you're saying is... the tests might prove that a student may or may not have deliberately been in contact with something that could have been, but wasn't necessarily, an illegal drug. Finally,
  • The test pads will need to be carefully compared to a color chart before determining if residue is present. Doors, handles and other surfaces need to be wiped and then cleaned consistently to monitor drug presence. Disinfectants and cleaners may also cause false positives, but such chemicals are listed in an operational handbook. Colorblind administrators and slackoff janitors may further complicate the drug detection process. Those who like to get a buzz off cleaning products will be happy, though.
Did anybody do a cost-benefit analysis for this stuff? Maybe they figure the psychological effect of having this policy will deter students from using drugs because they can see that the administration is bent on preventing drug use to the point of insanity. Maybe not. At least they get to keep their hair and their pee.


Jonathan Perri said...

How incredibly pointless.

Micah Daigle said...

Hmm... so they're looking for particles of drugs in schools.

Considering the fact that particles of illegal drugs have been found in the air over Rome and most U.S. paper money, it's reasonable to assume that there's a fair amount to be found in our schools--especially considering the fact that high school students have an easier time purchasing marijuana than alcohol.

Jonathan Perri said...

Exactly. So now a student who works hard to earn money that has a good chance of being contaminated with cocaine residue could test positive for PARTICLES on their wallets, hands, backpacks, purses, jackets, pockets, hats.... the list goes on.

Why even bother doing this? So a little piece of paper can turn colors and administrators can Oh and Ah over it? Then they can build suspicions on a student that has yet to even do anything wrong!

Would testing for these particles be random like student drug testing?

anti-drugwar czar said...

okay, then it's time for an increase in guerilla warfare: small bits of pot carried in the hands of a small number of people can be used to "wipe" pretty much everything in a school.

if they want to play games, then give them some games to occupy their time.

Rebecca Ogle said...

"Would testing for these particles be random like student drug testing?"

Oh yeah. I was so busy making fun of this insane-crazy idea, I forgot to mention that they're meeting over the summer to figure out how to use the technology. From the article, it seems doubtful that they're going to randomly test students' belongings. There's a huge emphasis on respecting privacy, getting reliable evidence before going in with the spray, and preventing drug use rather than getting law enforcement involved.

They'll probably figure out that there's no way to use the "technology" without miserably failing those goals and totally wasting their time and money, in which case we say we told them so. And if they're crazy enough to not see it's pointless, we'd better start telling them so.

nemo said...

(Obnoxious TV announcer's voice) Kids! Don't throw out that bong-water! Show your sensitivity to the problems of the environment and recycle it! Pour it into palm-sized squeeze bottles like nasal sprayers. You ought to know what to do with it next; the doorknob of the teacher's lounge would be a good start; their car door handles would be next. As the "Anti-Drug Czar" has proposed, if they want to play games, there's lots of them to be played...

Honestly, why do drug prohibitionists always believe their own 'blank slate' propaganda when it comes to underestimating their target's intelligence? Don't they recall how they were when they were young?

Jonathan Perri said...

wait... prohibitionists were young?

kaptinemo said...

Although I am tempted to think that DrugWarriors breed by mitosis - just as all bacteria do - the obvious fact is they were born.

It's been my experience that many of them are in the fields they are in thanks to abusive relationships, most likely during their upbringing, creating an overwhelming drive to control others out of a definite sense of being personally threatened by behavior that they believe to be conducive to creating the circumstances which led to their being hurt.

(Whether that behavior - which almost always challenges authority and 'order' and thus is seen as being antithetical to social cohesion - actually does so is not something that is negotiable with such people; their assumption that it does is tacit and a priori.)

In short, as children they become proto-authoritarians and matriculate to full authoritarians after puberty. But they do so from a mistaken set of assumptions that they believe are universal in nature. Logically challenging those assumptions usually leads to their becoming very uncomfortable to the point of attempting to defend those tacit (and largely unproven) assumptions by attacking those challenging them.

It can almost be reduced to a flow-chart, the process is so reflexively predictable. And it shows in their attitudes towards children; they were brought up a certain way ("Do as I say, not as I do!") and expect to be able to enforce such strictures upon others who were not. Hence their assumption that kids are empty vessels they can pour whatever nonsense they want into and get away with it. A point not lost upon their targets, who mumble the expected rote responses to get these purblind fools off their backs...but think their own thoughts as to why it's happening.