Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute
Author: Marsha Rosenbaum
Note: Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, is a medical sociologist who directs the ( ) Safety First project of the Drug Policy 
Alliance in San Francisco.
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Bush, George)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Last week it was "WMD" all over again in the President's State of the Union 
message. This time the unsubstantiated claims and wrongheaded policy were 
aimed at America's schoolchildren in this latest effort to get them to 
"just say no" to illegal drugs.

Citing recent declines in illegal drug use among teenagers, and couched in 
loving and caring rhetoric, Bush credited random drug testing with the 
reduction. He then proposed an additional $23 million for schools opting to 
use, as Drug Czar John Walters touts, this "silver bullet."

Immediately following, HR 3720 was introduced in the House by Rep. John 
Peterson (R-5th/PA), providing grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools 
and Communities Act to schools that institute random drug testing of all 

These proposals are based on shaky assumptions and political whim rather 
than sound research. Thoughtful investigations instead reveal that random 
drug testing does not deter drug use, and that it alienates students.

Last year's large federally funded ( ) that showed declines in illegal 
drug use also compared schools with and without drug testing. It turned out 
there was no difference in illegal drug use among students in drug testing 
v. non-drug testing schools. Aside from imparting misinformation about the 
deterrent value of testing, since only 5 percent of American schools 
currently utilize drug testing, Bush's crediting these programs for 
reductions in use is putting the cart before the horse.

As drug testing is currently practiced, students must be observed (by a 
teacher or other adult) as they urinate to be sure the sample they produce 
is their own. The collection of a specimen is a humiliating, invasive 
violation of privacy. For an adolescent (as well as most adults), this 
experience is especially embarrassing.

Testing can have the unanticipated effect of keeping students from 
participating in after-school, extracurricular programs - the very same 
activities that would fill their time during the peak teenage drug-using 
hours of 3-6 PM. A Tulia, Texas student summed it up when she said, "I know 
lots of kids who don't want to get into sports ... because they don't want 
to get drug tested. That's one of the reasons I'm not into any [activity]. 
I'm on medication, so I would always test positive, and then they would 
have to ask me about my medication, and I would be embarrassed. And what if 
I'm on my period? I would be too embarrassed."

School districts across our country are in a financial crisis, with cuts 
further threatening the quality of education in America. The millions of 
dollars proposed for random drug testing could be used more wisely, having 
a real rather than symbolic impact on high school drug abuse.

School administrators in Dublin, Ohio, for example, calculated that their 
$35,000 per year drug testing program was not cost-efficient. Of 1,473 
students tested, at $24 each, 11 tested positive, for a total cost of 
$3,200 per "positive" student. They cancelled the program, and with the 
savings were able to hire a full-time counselor and provide prevention 
programs for all 3,581 students.

Random drug testing may provide a false sense of security among school 
officials and parents who believe the program will let them know which 
students abuse drugs. In fact, testing will detect a tiny fraction of 
users, many of them without problems, and miss too many who are in trouble. 
If we are truly intent on helping students, we should listen to drug abuse 
professionals who know that detection of problems requires careful 
attention to signs such as truancy, erratic behavior, and falling grades.

Some will argue that students need drug testing to help them say "no." But 
in 2003, the "State of Our Nation's Youth" survey found that, contrary to 
popular belief, most teens are not pressured to use drugs. The same survey 
found, much to the surprise of many parents (myself included), that 75 
percent of teenagers actually enjoy spending time with their parents, and 
feel they have a good relationship with them.

Indeed, it's relationships built on trust, with parents, teachers and other 
caring adults, that accounts for the well being of teenagers. Drug testing 
actually has the effect of undermining parental influence, forcing adults 
to say, in essence, "I don't trust you," to their teenagers.

As young adults, teens need to know we expect them to learn how to take 
responsibility for their health. They need science-based drug education, 
counseling, and support. If they don't learn make wise decisions about 
alcohol and other drugs in high school, how will they enter the post-high 
school world as responsible adults?

Random drug testing may seem a panacea, but it is fraught with social, 
emotional and financial problems. Before we leap into another program (like 
DARE) that uses our teenagers as guinea pigs, we should carefully examine 
the many repercussions, pitfalls and alternatives to random student drug 
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