Public officials line up for drug tests

TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2007

More than two dozen public officials submitted urine samples for drug testing Monday to set an example for the rest of the community and send a message that illegal drug use will not be tolerated.

None of the officials – from school superintendents to state lawmakers – had illegal drugs in their system, according to Ron Nilson, a local business owner who arranged for the drug testing.

“We’re trying to create a drug-free Kootenai County,” said Nilson, owner of Post Falls-based Ground Force Manufacturing. “The first thing we do is start with high-ranking public officials, then look at business leaders, to send the message: It’s not just what we say. We’re willing to be tested ourselves.”

Nilson said much of the spending on drug prevention is geared toward children through programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. But his effort is geared primarily toward people in the workplace.

Drug testing is one step toward creating a community where people don’t drink or take drugs on the job, Nilson said. Drug testing in workplaces, he added, could create a better environment for recovering addicts, decreasing the chances of relapse.

Nilson has other ideas for reducing drug use in the community and in the jail population, including expanding opportunities for rehabilitation to provide job training and life skills counseling for those addicted to drugs.

Most of the individuals who volunteered were tested Monday at Kootenai Medical Center. Hospital CEO Joe Morris paid for the testing, Nilson said.

Some, including Post Falls Police Chief Cliff Hayes, were tested last week.

Nearly all of the officials gathered at the hospital Monday to discuss Nilson’s efforts to create a drug-free community and drug-free workplaces. They left the hospital conference room two at a time to submit urine samples in a room down the hall.

Rep. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said he believed it was a good idea for North Idaho employers to test employees for drug use.

“We’re not above being tested as well,” Hammond said. “We’re willing to set the example, be the model.”

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, suggested the public officials who were tested this year should return for annual testing and pledge money to support programs like the state’s drug courts, which focus on treatment instead of incarceration.

Hayden Mayor Ron McIntire, who owns a grocery store chain and randomly tests employees for drugs, submitted a sample Monday. “I guess it’s a start,” McIntire said.

But he questioned whether voluntary testing by public officials would have an impact on the community’s drug problem.

“These are probably the cleanest bunch around,” McIntire said of the group gathered Monday. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.”

Three elected officials – state Sens. Michael Jorgenson and Bob Nonini, and Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson – did not show up for Monday’s event.

Nilson said he was unable to reach Nonini on Monday. The senator did not return a call seeking comment.

Watson was out of town.

Jorgenson said he planned on participating but became busy dealing with “constituent issues” related to float homes in Bayview.

“I support anything we can do to stop drug use and abuse, and that’s why I agreed to do it,” Jorgenson said. “If I were able to go some other time, I would.”

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