OHSU's SATURN program launched at DHS with five drug tests

After months of review and debate over the SATURN drug testing program, the program officially started at Dallas High School with the testing of the first five DHS student athletes Thursday Oct. 5.

DALLAS -- After months of review and debate over the SATURN drug testing program, the program officially started at Dallas High School with the testing of the first five DHS student athletes Thursday Oct. 5.

Dallas went through many stages to get to Thursday's milestone. Before the testing began, SATURN doctors wanted to get to know the students, at least in terms of their views on and use of drugs and alcohol. They monitored a comprehensive drug and alcohol use survey that 315 students took Sept. 12.

Bollman Auditorium was filled to capacity with student athletes taking the confidential survey, and an additional 100 students were turned away because of the lack of space and surveys, said Theater Director Blair Cromwell.

The SATURN survey didn't stop with student athletes. Students who do not participate in school-sponsored sports completed anonymous surveys in their classrooms as well.

That anonymity is guaranteed. "We don't put a name with a survey and we've never broken the code of confidentiality," said Dr. Diane Elliot, a co-investigator for SATURN. This means that no one can find out what a certain student answered on the survey, "nobody finds out (including) parents, coaches, and principals," said Elliot.

The people behind the drug testing program are working with Oregon Health Sciences University through the SATURN program. SATURN stands for Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification. What it means to Dallas High School students who play sports is simple: they agree to take the test or they don't get to play.

Some students believe that everyone, not just athletes should be tested. Tests for "every extra-curricular activity should be funded," said DHS sophomore and class president Dylan Ordonez.

Nevertheless, SATURN has reasons for selecting only athletes for its research. Besides the fact that athletes are at an increased risk for use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, athletes "may influence other student behavior. Athletes are often opinion leaders. Reducing drug use among this group can extend to non-athlete friends and peers, lowering substance abuse in the whole school," reads OHSU's web site. Also, the biggest reason that only athletes can be drug tested is because it was made legal in the Vernonia School District case.

Some students at DHS think that the testing will make athletes more accountable for their actions. "More people will think about what they do before they do it," said sophomore Megan Keller, also a class officer.

The original SATURN plan was to have 24 schools participate in the program for three years. Dallas was one of 12 schools that were "active" subjects, which means that drug testing and surveys are both performed at the school. The other 12 schools were "passive" subjects, which means that they complete surveys, but are not drug tested.

But those figures were revised last week after OHSU announced Oct. 4 that it dropped five schools in the Lincoln County School District because the district did not meet the criteria required for the program. The study is continuing at 13 other schools in Oregon, including Dallas.

The Lincoln schools were excluded because they waived a provision for mandatory counseling for students testing positive, and requested that the researchers -- not school administrators -- inform parents of positive tests. The district also had an extremely low rate of questionnaire returns from one of the five schools assessed and a contaminated sampling of questionnaire returns from the same school.

All of the schools are participating in the program free of charge. The testing, 100 percent accurate with state-of-the-art technology, is funded by the National Institute of Health and is the same test that is used on Olympic athletes.

The test finds drugs that are still in a person's system, like alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and anabolic steroids. How long ago a person took the drugs cannot be determined because it varies from person to person. What shows up on the test is determined by the quantity consumed at the time and how fast an individual metabolizes it," said Esther Moe, Ph.D. for SATURN.

Anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of athletes at DHS will be tested. "We have no control over who gets tested, it's suspicionless and random," said Elliot. A student who gets picked to be drug tested must go through a procedure: after the student is called out of class, they will come to a room and the doctor will explain what will happen. The student will pick a sealed container and then urinate in the cup.

After 24 hours, the results of the drug test are known. If the results are positive, the student will be disciplined by DHS' current drug and alcohol policy: The first time a student is caught under the influence, including testing positive on the drug test, the student will have a two-week suspension from the sport. The student will be able to practice with their team, but may not play in games. Students also need to attend counseling.

If the test is positive, the student or parent also has an option to contest the results and have a different lab analyze the results. If the test is negative the second time, OHSU will pay for the test. If it's positive, the parents must pay for it.

The SATURN program wants to ensure that athletes are not severely disciplined, "We wanted to work with schools who didn't severely punish athletes [who tested positive]," said Elliot. Even though athletes do get punished, Moe assures students that the program is for research and, "not a 'Gotcha!' program. We don't want students to be kicked out of school or the authorities to be notified."

Parents will be notified and included in the program if their student tests positive. However, a parent cannot ask to have their student excluded from the testing. If a parent refuses, the student will not be allowed to continue playing sports, said Principal Dave Novotney, who added that a number of public forums and parent meetings were held while the school district was making their decision regarding participation in the SATURN program.


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