War on drugs gets new weapon

WHEELING – The war against drugs is always ongoing.

Local schools are continuing to take the aggressive approach to battle the problem amongst high school and junior high students.

During a press conference at the Howard Long Wellness Center on the campus of Wheeling Hospital a partnership between area schools, the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, the hospital and Drug Free Clubs of America was formally announced.

Several OVAC member schools already mandate drug tests from its students involved with extracurriculars and involve a disciplinary action if the result comes back positive.

However, this program doesn’t involve discipline from the school because the results of the tests, which will be administered by Wheeling Hospital, are kept between the doctor and the students’ parents.

The program seeks voluntary membership from students and offers a rewards program for members who are tested for drugs and the results come back negative.

Once the student is tested once and becomes a member of the program, he or she receives a photo identification card, which can be used for discounts at area businesses. However, the student is also open to random drug testing, which will be administered at the school, and if those results come back positive, the student is removed from the program. He or she can get back into the program at anytime if his or her system is clean.

Since the schools aren’t part of the process in learning the results, the DFCA is working with Youth Services System in Wheeling for support and care for the parents if their student tests positive.

The Drug Free Clubs of America program is relatively new. It’s the brainchild of Joseph Newcomb, who was a fireman in the Greater Cincinnati area for more than 30 years. It’s based in Northern Kentucky and this venture to the Ohio Valley is actually its first outside of that area.

“We’ve been talking about using the Ohio Valley as a pilot program to figure out the logistics of it all,” said DFCA Outreach and Development manager Angie Ferguson. “When we’re not physically right there, we need cheerleaders and that’s where the Wheeling area has been so phenomenal with people willing to support us because we’re just learning how we can grow outside of our (geographic) boundaries.”

Former Ohio County Sheriff Tom Burgoyne was instrumental in bringing the program to the Ohio Valley.

“Tom has been phenomenal in this whole process,” Ferguson said. “Every time I come into town, he makes sure I don’t just have the meetings I have scheduled, but I meet with five extra people. We literally called John DeBlasis (at Wheeling Hospital) like 10 minutes before we wanted to meet and met with him. Tom’s the kind of person who can make those types of things happen and he’s done that for us. The monkey should be back on the parents. Sometimes, these parents send their kids off to school and expect them to be babysat.”

Burgoyne was exposed to the program during a recent vacation to Florida. He got a call from Wheeling natives Gary and Flip West about meeting for dinner to talk about the DFCA and the possibility of bringing it to the Ohio Valley.

“I heard the program and was impressed right away and the Wests were very instrumental because they really wanted it to come to their hometown,” Burgoyne said. “The thing about the whole concept is that this puts the hiatus back on the parents. The school gets involved only because it’s the venue, but not the administrative part when a test comes back positive.”

The screenings test for everything. If there’s a positive test of any type, the Wheeling Hospital DFCA medical review officer calls the parent to check on what prescriptions the student might be on.

“If the detected substance is not consistent with a prescription, options for returning the student to a healthy lifestyle will be discussed,” Ferguson said.

One of the major sticking points with the program to get it started is funding, according to Ferguson.

“One of the challenges we face when we come into a new area is finding the major funder for that home,” Ferguson said. “In Northern Kentucky, there’s a company called Medaccount Management which funds those schools.”

The program costs $65 per student.

In Ohio County, the majority of the funding has been pledged by the aforementioned Wests, who are business owners in the Wheeling area. They’ve pledged $40 per student at Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central and Wheeling Middle School.

Wheeling Hospital’s contribution of the drug testing lowers the cost to $20 per student.

“Growing outside of Ohio County, we’ll have to find a major funder,” Ferguson continued. “A lot of the people I’ve met throughout the community in influential positions have said they’d help find the people who’d be willing to designate those resources. It seems like there are enough community leaders who like the program that we can identify that.”

Representatives of Bellaire and Buckeye Local were also on hand to listen to the presentation. Buckeye Local recently approved drug testing for its students involved in extracurriculars and unlike most area schools, who’ve implemented the program, are using Wheeling Hospital.

The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference is endorsing the program as well.

“One thing I’ve learned is that ideas usually start simple and sometimes take five or six years before they fully come to fruition in this conference,” Rataiczak said. “Things usually start with one or two schools, but as the A.D.s and the administrators spread the word around, the door opens. Sometimes that door kicks open in a heartbeat, but sometimes it takes a lot of pushing. With this, though, the door has been opened, and I think this is going to be a program that will help us tremendously down the road.”

Some of the businesses that have already committed to the new venture include: Perkins, Dairy Queen, YMCA, Oglebay, Quaker Steak and Tri-State Petroleum.

Staskey may be reach as sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com