LACEY — The new year means the start of random drug and alcohol testing for seventh and eighth-graders.

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In a letter to parents last month, the principal of Lacey Township Middle School noted the voluntary program would launch in January, five months after the move was approved by the Board of Education.

Attached to that letter was a form for parents who wish to make their children eligible for random drug and alcohol testing, which will be conducted by an outside agency.

According to schools Superintendent Craig Wigley, about 100 students are signed up for the program, and that number is expected to grow.

Students who test positive will be barred from athletics and/or extracurricular activities for 10 school days after a first offense, 45 school days after a second offense and 12 months after a third offense. Other consequences can include counseling, a medical examination and more frequent drug tests. Wigley said law enforcement would not get involved unless a student is found to be in possession of illegal substances or drug paraphernalia.

"Our first interventions are to help, assist ... get resources in place and address the problems," he said.

Wigley said an information and question session with parents in December "went very well," and the move has overall support from the community in light of the substance abuse problem locally and statewide.

Ocean County saw 157 drug-related deaths in 2015, fewer than only Camden County's 191, according to the state Office of the State Medical Examiner.

In late December, the county prosecutor's office cited at least 190 heroin overdose deaths in 2016. The lifesaving antidote Narcan has been distributed to nurses and other staffers at every high school in the county.

Random drug-testing has been in place for a couple years at Lacey Township High School. But participation in the program is mandatory for students who participate in interscholastic athletics and/or extracurricular activities.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.