Student Drug Testing Fails To Reduce Teens’ Self-Reported Substance Use

"Consistent with previous research, students in schools that conduct drug testing do not report less substance use"
Philadelphia, PA: Students subjected to student drug testing programs in school are no less likely to report consuming illicit drugs, tobacco, or alcohol than their peers, according to survey data published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

An international team of researchers from the United States, Israel, and Australia assessed the impact of school drug testing programs on a nationally representative sample of 943 high school students.

Investigators reported that the imposition of such programs had no positive impact on males' self-reported drug use. Student drug screening programs were associated with minor reductions in females' self-reported drug history, but only among women who attended schools with 'positive' environments. By contrast, investigators found that the enactment of drug testing programs in 'negative' school environments were most likely to be associated with "harmful effects on female youth"

Authors reported, "[C]onsistent with previous research, students in schools that conduct drug testing do not report less substance use. ... In total, the results indicate that, to the extent drug testing is effective, it is primarily for female students in schools with positive climates."

They concluded: "The current research expands on previous findings indicating that school drug testing does not in and of itself deter substance use. Indeed, drug testing appears to be particularly ineffective for female students in negative climate schools, which tend to have higher substance use rates and thus are in most need of effective substance prevention programs. Interventions that improve school climate may have much greater efficacy. Thus, our findings indicate that drug testing should not be undertaken as a stand-alone substance prevention effort and that improvements in school climate should be considered before implementing drug testing."

Previous studies assessing the impact of student drug screening programs, including a 2010 study by US Department of Education, have similarly failed to report that drug testing deterred student drug use.

More than one-fifth of US high schools impose some form of student drug testing, according to data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org. Full text of the study, "Student Drug Testing in the Context of Positive and Negative School Climates: Results from a National Survey," appears online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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