Drugs This Week on Drugs
posted by January 18 at 18:00 PMon
Random Student Drug Testing: That’s how to stop drug abuse before it starts, they say. Advocates led by the White House held two summits in Washington encouraging school administrators to begin randomly drug testing students. Under the programs, teens involved in extra-curricular school activities would be selected at random to pee into a cup and punished if their sample contained drug metabolites. “A lot of kids don’t want to use drugs and this gives them a reason not to,” said Bertha Madras, Deputy Director of the White House’s drug-policy office.
The most charismatic speaker was Lisa Brady, a perky Superintendent from New Jersey. She conducted one survey in 1999, while a drug-testing program was in effect, and another one three years later, while the program had been repealed during a lawsuit (which the district later won). The study found that the number of “multi-drug users” increased 52-to-316 percent after the drug testing stopped. Brady passionately framed the issue: “Deciding to randomly drug test is not about how bad your drug problem is, but about how much you are willing to do to keep your students off drugs.”
But while drug testing might allow schools to take a clear stand against drugs, it’s not clear it actually reduces drug use. The University of Michigan released the only peer-reviewed scientific report on the subject in 2005, finding that drug testing had no effect (.pdf). Madras dismisses the report because it included schools that weren’t testing students randomly. However, the report accounts for this, stating, “No statistically significant difference was found in student use of marijuana or other illicit drugs between these seven schools and the great majority of high schools that did not have random testing.”
Even if testing would reduce drug use, it raised other concerns for those at the summit. “The danger being if districts are not careful about policies and procedudes, kids might get punished without receiving counseling,” said Chris Harnish, a drug counselor in the Mercer Island School District. The federal funding—which has thus far totalled $36.1 million to over 400 schools—requires that students be referred to counseling but won’t pay for counseling, rehabilitation, or drug education. Another member in the audience was troubled that drug testing may prompt some students to use drugs that could metabolize over the weekend, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, rather than less dangerous drugs like marijuana, which stays in the body for a month.
Jennifer Kern of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that opposes the programs, says, “This creates barriers for the students who need most to be involved in school activities.”
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