In March of 2016, the Massachusetts State Legislature enacted this new drug screening law (MGL Chapter 71, Section 97). Simply put, they have mandated that Massachusetts schools verbally screen students for potential drug/alcohol use/abuse. Extensive training has been provided to schools to enact this screening.
This is the first year of implementation. School districts are required to screen students in two grade levels. At the high school, we will be screening students in grade 9. The middle schools in the district will be screening students in grade 7.
This is a verbal screening only. Students will have a conversation with an SBIRT trained staff member in a private office, on a one-on-one basis.
The screening will consist of a brief introduction for the student, some specific questions, and will be followed by a brief conversation. It’s expected that the screening will take approximately 5-15 minutes.
The individual screenings will take place during the school day starting April 30, 2018.
The people conducting the screenings, the SBIRT trained staff are:
No. Parents will not be informed of any screening results. The training and law is very explicit that parents cannot be notified of the screening results.
“Any statement, response or disclosure made by a pupil during a verbal substance use disorder screening shall be considered confidential information and shall not be disclosed by a person receiving the statement, response or disclosure to any other person without the prior written consent of the pupil”
In addition, Massachusetts law goes further. Minors as young as 12 are even able to obtain medical treatment for substance abuse without parental consent or notification. See Mass General Law Chapter 112 Section 12E.
“Section 12E. A minor twelve years of age or older who is found to be drug dependent by two or more physicians may give his consent to the furnishing of hospital and medical care related to the diagnosis or treatment of such drug dependency. Such consent shall not be subject to disaffirmance because of minority. The consent of the parent or legal guardian of such minor shall not be necessary to authorize hospital and medical care related to such drug dependency and, notwithstanding any provision of section fifty-four of chapter one hundred and twenty-three to the contrary, such parent or legal guardian shall not be liable for the payment of any care rendered pursuant to this section. Records shall be kept of such care. The provisions of this section shall not apply to methadone maintenance therapy.”
This is not to say that students will not be encouraged to talk to their parents. If a student has a drug/alcohol problem, we will almost always encourage that student to talk with his/her parent and get the parent involved. Often, students will use us to be the conduit to having that conversation with their parent.
Both parents and students have the ability to opt out of the screening. This may be done when the student is called in for the screening or by contacting the school nurse at email@example.com.
Part of this state mandate requires schools to send aggregate screening results to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
What this means is that the number of students who respond positively or negatively to the various screening questions will be sent. No student names or identifying information is ever sent to the state, nor is any of that information recorded. In fact, the screenings are verbal only – students can see the questions if they like, but they do not fill out any questions on a piece of paper; part of the rationale for that is to keep student names and information private. Student names are not recorded as part of this process.
If a student screens positively, we will encourage them to speak to a parent, their guidance counselor, or an outside agency to get additional support.
The student will need to give written consent to reach the next tier of support (traditionally, their guidance counselor and/or a parent).
As you can see in this newsletter and in the language of the law around SBIRT, confidentiality is a greatly emphasized in this legislation.
The person doing the screening with the student cannot share the information with anybody without the written consent of the student. Additionally, the results would never impact student discipline in any way.
The exception to this confidentiality clause is if, as the law states, the screener feels that in his/her professional opinion the student is in immediate medical danger or a “disclosure is otherwise required by state law.”
Here are some community resources that a QRSD student could take advantage of: