LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — In a first for New Jersey, a middle school in Ocean County has launched a drug testing program.

As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the groundbreaking initiative is happening in an area hard-hit by the opioid epidemic.

Outside Lacey Township Middle School, there are two billboards signed by students reading, “We pledge to stay drug free.”

The district is now taking an extra step to ensure that the students make good on their promise. Random drug testing will be conducted for seventh and eighth graders, who are of the age where experimentation often starts.

“There has been mixed feelings out there. I’ve heard some commentary about, you know, student rights and overstepping boundaries,” said Lacey Township Schools Supt. Craig Wigley. “But we’re giving people an option. I’d rather do something than sit on my hands and just say: ‘What’s next? What are we going to do?’”

Wigley said more than 100 families have signed up so far, knowing that as their child walks through the doors, they could be tested at any time.

“It is really scary that age, but the stories – the horror stories that I hear,” said one mother of a student at the school.

The mother, who did not want to show her face, said it is an extra barrier to prevent drug use.

“It seems the drug problem is starting younger and younger, so to me, I think it’s fantastic idea – they start catching while they’re this young, because it is happening a lot in in middle school,” she said.

Carolyn Roselli has four kids in the district and signed them up.

“Unfortunately, people feel that the students who should be tested, their parents probably won’t sign them up to be,” Roselli said.

More than 180 people have died from overdoses in Ocean County so far this year. Statewide, deaths are up sharply too,

“Maybe it’s going to help this drug problem that we have here in our town,” said Millie Devlin of Lacey Township.

Wigley said the drug testing program should psychologically help kids combat peer pressure. If offered drugs, they can refuse and say they are going to be tested.

“For the children to share and understand that they have a safe out to deny experimentation with drugs,” he said.

The program is administered by a third party and costs about $10,000 a year. Wigley said it is worth it to support healthy minds and battle the epidemic together.

The middle school program is a new extension of the high school’s drug testing program. Students need to sign up if they want to participate in sports, clubs or dances or have parking privileges.

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