Pubdate: Wed, 21 Sep 2005
Source: News-Sentinel, The (Fort  Wayne, IN)
Copyright: 2005 The News-Sentinel
Author: Paul Armentano
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Students in Southwest Allen County Schools will be turning in more 
than just their homework this school year. Thanks to the district's 
new drug-testing policy, students will soon be required to randomly 
submit their urine to school authorities for mandatory drug 
screening. Chances are, however, this latest 'test' may be more than 
its proponents bargained for.

Though couched by advocates as a silver bullet in the ongoing battle 
to curb teen drug use, random student drug testing is often 
ineffective and costly, and it opens a Pandora's box of serious 
ethical questions. That's according to the only federally 
commissioned study ever to assess the efficacy of student drug 
testing on a national basis. The study, conducted by the University 
of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, found no difference in 
the level of illegal drug use between students in schools that test 
for illicit drugs and those in schools that do not.

'Drug testing of students in schools does not deter use,' said the 
University of Michigan news release summarizing the findings of the 
four-year study, which was later published in the Journal of School 
Health. 'At each grade level studied - 8, 10 and 12 - the 
investigators found virtually identical rates of drug use in schools 
that have drug testing and the schools that do not.'

More recently, a comprehensive review by Britain's Joseph Rowntree 
Foundation also gave student drug testing a failing grade. Its 
report, published in February, noted that objective evidence 
supporting the effectiveness of random student drug testing is 
'remarkably thin,' and warned that the policy could do greater harm than good.

That's because, according to the report, student drug testing 
'undermines trust between pupils and staff,' and, in some cases, 
'encourages pupils to switch from the use of cannabis . . . that can 
be traced a relatively long time after use, to drugs that are cleared 
from the body much more quickly, including heroin.' In other words, 
if you're looking for a surefire way to persuade little Johnny to 
switch from pot to binge drinking or crank, look no further than 
student drug testing.

Some experts also say they're concerned that suspending students who 
test positive for drugs from participating in extracurricular 
activities may cause students undue and long-term harm. According to 
Professor Howard Taras, chairman of the American Academy of 
Pediatrics Committee on School Health, '[Drug] screening may decrease 
involvement in extracurricular activities among students who 
regularly use or have once used drugs. Without such engagement in 
healthy activities, adolescents are more likely to drop out of 
school, become pregnant, join gangs, pursue substance abuse and 
engage in other risky behaviors.'

Lastly, student drug testing does not come cheap. For example, school 
officials in Dublin, Ohio, recently jettisoned the school's 
$35,000-per-year drug-testing program because it proved to be 
anything but cost-effective. Of the 1,473 students tested, only 11 
tested positive for illegal drugs. That's a cost of $3,200 per 
positive student - hardly the sort of price tag that can be justified 
in an era of local and federal belt-tightening.

While rising rates of alcohol and substance abuse among young people 
is alarming, suspicionless student drug testing is not the answer. It 
is a humiliating, invasive practice that runs contrary to the 
principles of due process. It compels teens to submit evidence 
against themselves and to forfeit their privacy rights as a necessary 
requirement for attending school. Rather than presuming our 
schoolchildren innocent of illicit activity, suspicionless drug 
testing presumes them guilty until they prove themselves innocent. Is 
this truly the message we wish to send to young people?

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Paul Armentano is a senior policy analyst for the NORML (National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman