The (Munster) Times. December 14, 2017

Teacher drug tests worth considering

Region school officials — and teachers themselves — should keep an open mind to the idea of requiring teachers to submit to random drug tests.

Many private companies — particularly those with employees who work in dangerous areas or are responsible for the safety or well-being of others — use drug testing both before hiring personnel and randomly of existing employees.

The recent arrest of Lake Central High School teacher Samantha Cox — after allegedly being recorded using illegal narcotics at the school — shows it may be time for such a policy.

Lake Central schools already has a drug-testing policy for some students and bus drivers.

Each day, school teachers are entrusted with molding and shaping the minds of our most valuable and potentially vulnerable resources — our children.

In the time that children are in their classrooms, teachers also are responsible for the safety and well-being of our youth.

It seems both logical and reasonable that school districts would incorporate all possible manner of protections for our children, and requiring random drug tests of teachers is a step in that direction.

Some will balk at this idea as an overreaction.

After all, as Lake Central schools Superintendent Larry Veracco points out, reports of such behavior among teachers isn't commonplace.

"This is the first incident I know of since I've been working here, but I do think (teacher drug testing) is worth discussing," he said recently.

Lake Central currently pays $40 each for a five-panel urine test for students involved in extracurricular activities or who drive to school, Veracco said.

Bus drivers are tested before employment and randomly thereafter, at a cost of $60 per test, he said.

Surely there is a way to include teachers in this testing mix.

The cost is outweighed by peace of mind for parents and enhancement of well being for students.

You can't put a price on either of those important factors.

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The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. December 13, 2017

Continuing county's needle exchange program a good move for public health

The Monroe County commissioners decision to continue the needle exchange program in Monroe County for at least the next two years is a good decision that addresses a bad problem. It will protect the health of people and even save some lives.

The problem is opioid addiction. It's much better public policy to treat the raging issue as a health problem rather than a law enforcement problem, which is why the needle exchange program is a positive strategy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains an effective program, such as the one in Monroe County, provides numerous harm reduction services, including sterile needles and syringes; safe disposal containers for needles and syringes; education about overdose prevention and safer injection practices; and other methods of getting people the help they need to stop using dangerous drugs.

Statistics gathered by the CDC show people who inject drugs who participate in a needle exchange program are five times as likely to enter treatment for substance abuse disorder and more likely to reduce or stop using injection drugs. According to the CDC, such programs also save lives by reducing overdose deaths; reduce the number of new HIV and viral hepatitis C infections by reducing needle sharing; reduce injuries to first responders caused by needle sticks because of greater opportunities for proper disposal; and save health care dollars that would be used to care for people living with HIV or hepatitis C.

These are many of the positive effects. In one clear sentence, the CDC dispels the negatives often used to argue against needle exchange programs, also called Syringe Services Programs (SSP). It states: "SSPs don't increase drug use or crime."

Problems revolving around the opioid epidemic hit its public peak in Monroe County this summer when first responders were called to overdoses several times a day in downtown Bloomington. Many of the overdose calls came from a small footprint in an area along Kirkwood Avenue and a couple of cross streets.

The issues prompted the South Central Opioid Summit in September, which brought the multifaceted issues of the opioid epidemic into a setting in which community members could listen, better understand and start working toward solutions.

Extending the needle exchange program, which has 1,600 participants, is one of the solutions.

It's also deserving of note that a 17-person Opioid Awareness Commission has been named to look for other ways to address the problems. Those 17 community members, led by chairwoman and county commissioner Amanda Barge, should be commended for their willingness to lead the way in fighting this very difficult problem.

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South Bend Tribune. December 12, 2017

Targeting youth could reduce smoking rates

A recent story on a proposal to raise Indiana's legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21 is getting a cool reception by some legislative leaders.

Regarding the proposal to raise the Hoosier smoking age, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma summed it up this way:

"I have a bit of difficulty telling somebody that they can go to Iraq and fight for freedom by that can't buy a pack of cigarettes," Bosma said.

Though leaders in the General Assembly may be hesitant to raise the smoking age, it's a discussion worth having.

Consider these statistics:

. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says national data show that about 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages of 18 to 21 are also a critical period when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use.

. Tobacco companies intentionally market to kids and young adults to recruit "replacement smokers." Nearly all users become addicted before age 21."

. Research by the National Academy of Medicine predicts a national movement to increase the tobacco buying age to 21 would cause a 12 percent decrease in tobacco use among today's teens by the time they become adults.

Dr. Richard Feldman, former Indiana state health commissioner whose column appears in The Tribune, cited an internal tobacco industry document that said: "If a man never smoked by age 18, the odds are three-to-one he never will. By age 24, the odds are 20-to-one.

There have been other proposals to try and reduce smoking rates in the state, including a $1-per-pack increase in the state's current 99-cent cigarette tax that have cleared the House the past two years, but failed to win approval in the Senate.

An ideal solution would be for legislators replenish some of the money intended for initiatives aimed at helping smokers kick the habit and preventing youth from starting to smoke.

We're not naive enough to think that level of funding from years ago will ever be matched again.

It would be great if the state could commit to making a greater investment in tobacco prevention and cessation programs that have proven effective in the past. Barring that, legislators must take a hard look at raising the smoking age.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. December 15, 2017

Safety first

In the latest assault on local government control, an appointed state commission is hampering efforts by some Indiana cities, towns and counties to protect their residents.

The Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission last week rejected a carbon monoxide detector ordinance adopted by the City Council in Michigan City. It earlier struck down a similar measure approved in Chesterton and has temporarily blocked measures in Porter and St. Joseph counties.

Hoosiers are told once again the Statehouse knows best, whether it's fireworks regulations, vacation rental regulations or a proposal to ban plastic bags.

In this case, it's a tool some communities have recommended as a lifesaving measure. In October, Michigan City adopted its ordinance requiring detectors in newly constructed homes. Officials were inspired by Dot Kesling, a LaPorte resident who started the Lindsey O'Brian Kesling Wishing Tree Foundation after her daughter died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2010, shortly after graduating from Indiana University.

In a letter to the editor published in The Journal Gazette in April, Kesling wrote that Indiana was one of only four states without statewide requirements for carbon monoxide protection. LaPorte was the first city to enact a requirement, but only after three attempts to get it past the statewide fire prevention commission.

Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak told the Times of Northwest Indiana he was frustrated by the commission's resistance to his city's measure, which was modeled after the LaPorte ordinance. He called the commission "inept," noting it includes only two firefighters, with the rest of the board made up of building and construction industry representatives.

"What they're doing, in my opinion, is trying to draw it out as long as possible so we just go away," Kazmierczak said.

Commission member Jessica A. Scheurich, president of the Fort Wayne Home Builders Association, said she wasn't present for the ruling on the Michigan City ordinance but defended the 11-member commission's makeup, noting a requirement for various industry sectors to be represented. She referred questions about the carbon monoxide detector measure to commission staff.

Adam O'Connor, deputy chief and public information officer for the Fort Wayne Fire Department, said carbon monoxide detectors are effective, noting he always makes sure his college-age son has smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the houses where he's living.

"It was not uncommon 25 years ago to see multiple patients treated at one time for CO poisoning in St. Joseph Hospital's hyperbaric oxygen chamber," he wrote in an email. "Those occurrences are much less frequent after CO detectors for home use became common. We respond hundreds of times each year to check structures for CO, and those investigations are usually inspired by a working CO detector."

O'Connor noted the devices are only effective if they are installed and working properly.

"An ordinance only works when people adhere to it, and many times it is unknown that the ordinance is being violated until there is an injury or fatality," he wrote.

Indeed, Indiana's statewide smoke detector requirement hasn't eliminated all fire fatalities. But officials in Michigan City, Chesterton and elsewhere should be allowed to determine whether a measure requiring carbon monoxide detectors might save lives in their communities.

A panel appointed by the governor shouldn't be allowed to second-guess elected local officials on matters of public safety.

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