High School Drug Testing Shows No Long-Term Effect on Use

New research paints a decidedly mixed picture when it comes to mandatory drug testing for high school students trying out for sports or other extracurricular activities: While testing seems to reduce self-reported drug use in the short term, it has virtually no effect on teens’ plans to use drugs in the future.

A U.S. Department of Education study, out today, surveyed students at 36 high schools that got federal grants to do drug testing. Half of the schools had already begun testing for marijuana, amphetamines and other drugs; the other half had not.

The results are mildly encouraging for drug-test proponents: They show that fewer kids in extracurricular activities reported using drugs when testing took place, compared with peers in schools where drug testing hadn’t been implemented.

In schools with testing, 16.5% of students reported using tested-for drugs within the previous 30 days, vs. 21.9% in other schools.

And testing didn’t seem to discourage students from going out for activities.

But that’s basically where the good news ends. Testing didn’t seem to have a “spillover effect” on kids who weren’t trying out for extracurriculars — in both sets of schools, 36% of these students said they had used drugs in the previous 30 days.And testing had no effect on the number of drug-related “disciplinary incidents.” in schools.

What’s perhaps most troubling: Testing had no effect on kids’ plans to use drugs in the future. In both sets of schools, about one in three students said they “probably” or “definitely” will use drugs in the next year.

Recent court decisions allow schools to be on the lookout for drugs — they can even limit students’ ability to promote drug use, as in the 2002 case of an Alaska student suspended after he unfurled a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” across the street from school during an Olympic torch relay event. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 upheld the suspension.

“The courts have understood, and schools understand, that schools are a special setting,” says Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Boards Association. “We are dealing with minors, we are dealing with students who are in the care of schools, and so schools have a special obligation to ensure that students remain safe.”

But Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, says he’s disappointed that testing had no effect on kids’ intention to use drugs. “The question is, was anything learned other than the avoidance issue?” he wonders.

He doesn’t think drug testing is making the problem worse, “but at the same time, that finding suggests that it’s not necessarily addressing the real issue, which is that we have to change behaviors. … The behavior here should be, ‘Whether I’m playing football or not, I shouldn’t be using drugs.’ ”

The report is available online at: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104025/pdf/20104025.pdf

– Article from USA TODAY.