The American Academy of Pediatrics is speaking out against random drug testing in schools, saying there is little evidence to support that the method actually works to keep children off drugs.
Instead, the AAP suggests that schools focus their resources instead on helping students to avoid or overcome drug use.
According to Dr. Sharon Levy, a co-author of the report published online in Pediatrics, “The evidence is just really weak.” She went on to say that tests are not likely to pick up sporadic drug use, “and with kids, it’s mainly sporadic use that you’re trying to detect.”
While Daniel Romer, a researcher and director of the Adolescent Communication Institute at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, was not involved in the study, he agreed with the findings. He previously conducted his own study on the subject that focused on US high school students, finding that students who attended schools with random drug testing were not any less likely to use alcohol or marijuana than students who did not attend such schools.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of 2006, about 20% of US high schools had begun to participate in a drug testing program. Since that time, the number of schools participating in such programs has been on the rise and is beginning to expand to some middle schools, writes Ken Hurst for CBS News.
Testing typically comes in the form of a urine test, which looks for drugs including marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines. However, legally, this testing can only target students who are going out for sports or other extra-curricular activities, meaning the random testing ends up missing out on many students who are the most at-risk for turning to drugs, according to Romer.
In addition, false-positives on these tests are a possible outcome due to certain medications, including ADHD drugs and certain foods.
Drug tests also come with a hefty price tag, with a single test costing $24. Because random drug testing takes so long to catch even a single student using drugs, it typically costs about $3,000 to get even one positive result.
Romer went on to say that “random drug testing has no impact on kids’ beliefs about drugs.” He said students who want to take drugs will find a way to do so, many times by switching to a drug that cannot be recognized by the tests. “Then it becomes like a cat-and-mouse game for them,” Romer said.
According to both studies, it is still unclear as to what actually keeps kids from using drugs. While previous studies have found the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program to be ineffective, Romer did find that students who attend a school with a “positive climate,” or one where the students felt comfortable and had a good relationship with their students, were less likely to participate in drug use than students at other schools.
Levy suggested that rather than performing random drug testing, schools should be on the lookout for certain behaviors and school performance that could signal drug use, and then try to help those students rather than punish them. Research has shown that students who test positive for drugs are often suspended or expelled from school, and it is not clear if they get the help they need to come off of drugs.