County juvenile center conducts thousands of drug tests annually

By Carolyn Cole
Published on February 21, 2008

Almost 6,000 drug screenings were given in a year at the Canadian County children’s justice center, or an average of 24 per day.

All of the screenings were given for free to Canadian County youth or to adults connected to a case involving children, said. Director Joan South, of the Gary E. Miller Canadian County Juvenile Justice Center. The tests are paid for using county funds — part of a 1/3-cent sales tax collected to support the center.

“Any parent can bring their child here if they reside in Canadian County free of charge,” she said. “They don’t have to have a juvenile court involvement for that.”

Between July 2006 and June 2007, juvenile center officials administered 5,989 urine analysis drug tests. They also gave 1,625 alcohol breath tests.

In many instances, South said the youth undergoing testing are under court order to have them as often as three times in a week as a term of their probation. Other referrals come from school districts for children facing suspension connected to drugs found on campuses. For example when a Mustang school official finds a youth in possession of a controlled dangerous substance, the student faces either a year suspension from school or a 10-day suspension with drug testing and counseling.

While the drug test is free, challenging the results isn’t. If someone wants the results reconsidered by another agency, the sample must be sent to another laboratory, which costs $30.

Almost 80 percent of Canadian County high school seniors participating in the Youth Risky Behavior Survey reported trying alcohol, while over half responded they had drank alcohol within a month of answering the survey. Thirty-five percent reported using marijuana, almost a quarter had tried sedatives, while more than 10 percent reported using stimulants.

Bill Sharp, center director of behavioral health services, has supported legislation which would have required youth detained on an alcohol or drug-related offense to undergo an addiction evaluation. Because children’s brains aren’t fully developed when they experiment with drugs and alcohol as teenagers, they are more likely to become addicts by the time they reach adulthood.

“Almost no addict or alcoholic goes to treatment voluntarily,” he said.

The task force was formed to develop a plan to present to the Legislature, but Sharp said he isn’t certain lawmakers will consider its recommendations this session. Conducting the evaluations will require more funding, and additional programs will be needed to help children, but otherwise Sharp said youth with growing addictions won’t receive treatment before it becomes an almost insurmountable problem in their adult lives. Early drug and alcohol use is also linked to teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse, an increased risk of dropping out of high school and suicide.

“I think doing something is better than saying we will never have the funding for it,” he said.

Sharp oversees a 24-bed residential addiction treatment facility housed at the county juvenile center, one of three centers in Oklahoma designed for youth. The center also offers outpatient counseling, a family drug court and a youth graduated sanctions program.

“We do not have one kid who would have come if not for a parent or probation officer or school who told them to go right now,” he said.

From morning to night, Sharp said children at the facility are kept busy with school, counseling, treatment support groups and activities. Once they complete the program and go home, he said he urges them to find a job or enter a national service program while continuing to attend support group meetings. If youth return home to the same friends and environment they left, Sharp said they face a lot of pressure to use substances again.

“It’s not high the numbers that stay overall sober,” he said, however youth are more likely to have success when the return to school and are able to avoid crime, stop running away from home and continue to receive mental health therapy.

“When you matriculate from the program you are facing all of this for the first time,” Sharp said. “The temptation is overwhelming.”


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