Pubdate: Thu, 18 Mar 2004
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute
Author: Marsha Rosenbaum, AlterNet
Note: Marsha Rosenbaum also is director of the Safety First project ( ) of the Drug Policy Alliance in San Francisco. 
This story originally appeared in the Fresno Bee.
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Today Fresno hosts the second of four Office of National Drug Control
Policy-sponsored summits on student drug testing.

In January, in his State of the Union address, President Bush credited
recent declines in illegal drug use among teenagers to random drug
testing. He then proposed $23 million go to schools opting to use what
national drug czar John Walters touts a "silver bullet" and Mayor Alan
Autry has vigorously supported.

I will be in Fresno for the summit today, along with other parents,
because I hope there will be room in these gatherings for real
discussion, even debate, about this well-meaning but wrongheaded
approach to drug abuse prevention. As a research scientist and drug
educator, I believe these proposals are based on false premises and
hollow promises.

Research and experience tell us instead that random drug testing does
not deter drug use. The same large survey Bush cited
( that showed declines in illegal drug use
this year also compared 76,000 students in schools with and without
drug testing. It turned out there was no difference in illegal drug
use among students from both sets of schools. Because at this point
only 5 percent of American schools use drug testing, Bush's crediting
these programs for reductions is a big leap of faith.

Random drug testing alienates students. Students must be observed (by
a teacher or other adult) as they urinate to be sure the sample is
their own. The collection of a specimen is a humiliating violation of
privacy, especially embarrassing for an adolescent. Testing can have
the unanticipated effect of keeping students from participating in
after-school, extracurricular programs - activities that would fill
their time during the peak teenage drug-using hours of 3-6 p.m.

Sitting on the Sidelines

A student in Tulia, Texas, summed it up: "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."

Drug testing is expensive and inefficient. As in Fresno, school
districts across the country are in financial crisis. 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.

Quite a Bill

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 canceled the program and,
with the savings, were able to hire a full-time counselor and provide
prevention programs that reached all 3,581 students.

Testing is not the best way to detect problems with alcohol and other
drugs. Though it may provide a false sense of security among school
officials and parents, who believe it tells which students abuse
drugs, in fact testing detects only a tiny fraction of users, many of
them without problems, and misses 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, that 75
percent of teenagers actually enjoy spending time with their parents
and feel they have a good relationship with them.

Drug testing actually has the effect of undermining parental
influence, forcing adults to say, in essence, "I don't trust you," to

As young adults, teenagers 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 to 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 a program that
uses students as guinea pigs, we should examine the many
repercussions, pitfalls and alternatives to random drug testing.
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