Drug Testing in Schools – What Side are You On?
In 2012 I wrote about the controversy over drug testing welfare recipients. Recently a controversy about testing students in athletics and in other extracurricular activities surfaced in a group of towns south of me. The Lacey Township school district held a forum in February to discuss this policy pending in its schools. It was hosted by the Drug/Alcohol Task Force in the schools, who called it “A Red Night Out.” I have no idea why. To signal the danger drugs pose? The proponents came armed with statistics, and what statistics they were. Four people died in Lacey Township from drug overdoses last year, and there were 39 others who overdosed but lived. Thirty of the overdoses were from heroin. A lawyer and parent in the township recounted his son’s story for the audience, which was as sobering as the statistics. The boy’s drug problems began at age 13 and got so bad that his father pressed charges to give him some consequences if he continued rather than getting help. His son is 31 now and clean and says his father did the right thing.
Drug testing can be controversial, to be sure, but I was surprised at one person who wrote an op-ed letter to warn that the testing could backfire: a woman from the NJ Drug Policy Alliance. She said that such an action could result in the “destruction of trust between students and adults at the school” and impair open discussion of the “potentially life-threatening issues adolescents face.” She also thought that it may deter students from participating in extracurricular activities. She’d rather see the money go to an education program to try and combat drug abuse.
I found it interesting that she referred those interested to the American Academy of Pediatrics for saying that the organization opposes this type of drug testing. I decided to see for myself. She was right—I found a page called Drug Testing Your Teen, but it doesn’t state anything about drug testing those involved in school activities. Their policy is that any drug test should be voluntary, and that a child’s doctor should be able to identify drug use by talking to the teen. They point out that it’s a clear sign of distrust if parents drug test (and, I suppose, that can be extended to school testing.)
Hmmm…. I wonder how many people disagree and think that in some cases drug testing is one of the few ways to try and save a teen. I also wonder how recovery professionals feel. I’m sure this controversy has occurred in several, or even many, schools around the nation.
As to whether drug testing works, I went to the NIDA site to try and learn the answer. Here it is, at the end of a long and thoughtful page of information in the form of Frequently Asked Questions:
What has research determined about the utility of random drug tests in schools?
“There is not very much research in this area, and the early research shows mixed results. A study published in 2007 (Goldberg et al, J. Adolesc Health, 41: 421-29, 2007) found that student athletes who participated in randomized drug testing had overall rates of drug use similar to students who did not take part in the program, and in fact some indicators of future drug abuse increased among those participating in the drug testing program. Because of the limited number of studies on this topic more research is warranted.”