THE Department of Education (DepEd) on Sunday vowed to further strengthen the anti-drug campaign in public and private schools in the country despite the "very low drug use" among students as shown by the results of the random drug testing started last year.

At the same time, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said they would resume the random drug test starting this week until the end of classes on March.

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"Although result of the drug test showed a relatively low rate of drug abuse, we at DepEd will remain vigilant as we continue to strengthen our National Drug Eradication Program to ensure that we will be able to fully eradicate illegal drug use among our students," Lapus said.

The program aims for the integration of drug prevention concepts in learning areas of both elementary and secondary schools, and the students' co-curricular activities.

Those who are taking up the DepEd's alternative learning program will also be included in the anti-drug campaign.

The official said DepEd would work with the community and non-government agencies to ensure that the campaign will be a success.

On Saturday, DepEd announced that preliminary test results showed that 0.24 percent or 72 of the 29,059 students tested positive for drug use.

It said that 2,907 or 28.5 percent of the 10,257 targeted high schools nationwide had been visited for the random drug testing (RDT).

The National Reference Laboratory of the Department of Health (DOH) reported 90 positive cases from the screening test, but only 72 were confirmed positive, of which, 70-positive for marijuana and two cases for shabu.

Palace alarmed

A Malacañang official expressed his views on the involvement of alarming number of high school students in drug use citing the urgency of solving the problem.

"Of course, our problem on drugs is very serious," Secretary to the Cabinet Silvestre Bello III said.

Reports said 72 high school students turned out to be positive in the Random Drug Testing program of the departments of education and health.

Bello, in a radio interview, said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself had directed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA) and other related agencies to strengthen the campaign against illegal drugs.

"We have to protect them (students) from the ill effects of drug use and drug abuse," Bello said.

An assessment of the drug-testing program was conducted recently by DepEd and DOH officials to formulate the 2010 Work and Financial Plan for the drug testing and interventions to be instituted.

Lapus said almost 96 percent of the 874 high schools in the National Capital Region have already been visited by the DOH analysts.

Some 26 students were confirmed to be using drugs. A number of schools divisions in 14 regions were likewise visited by the RDT teams.

Only Soccsksargen and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) were not scheduled in Calendar Year 2009 due to limited resources.

DepEd has also conducted a random drug test in 2003 to 2005 after study showed that drug use in six regions of the country, including the National Capital Region (NCR), increased by 10 percent.

In 2004, the DepEd, through its Health and Nutrition Center conducted drug testing of high school students in 17 randomly selected schools in each region to determine the prevalence of drug users among students.

Unlike the current drug testing, the DepEd then randomly chose only 17 schools per region and 30 kids per school take part in the random drug test.

Of the 8,670 high school students tested, 67 (0.8 percent) yielded positive results on drug dependence while 39 college students (0.5 percent) from a sample of 7,499 students were also found drug dependents.

The renewed push for the program came after the arrest of three young drug suspects namely Richard Brodett, Joseph Jordana Joseph, and Joseph Tecson who were apprehended by elements of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in a buy-bust operation inside the posh Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa and in Cubao, Quezon City last year. (AH/JMR/Sunnex)