This essay discusses random drug testing in schools. A brief introduction is followed by an expanded discussion on the positions of key stakeholders whose interests include economics, sports, academics, societal relationships, health care, the law, and the workplace. This article reveals that there are limitations to drug testing capability and room for detrimental errors. Finally, the author addresses how governmental support for robust drug prevention in children and adolescents is a priority in the White House today, but conclusions drawn and resultant policy-setting may be based more on anecdote than on statistically-qualified research
Education & the Law > Random Drug Testing in Schools
The ideal time to focus on drug abuse prevention initiatives for teens is before peer pressure and experimentation begin. Education and awareness starts at home, in school, and for many, in religious organizations. Lessons on drug and alcohol use are incorporated into middle and high school curricula and are targeted at prevention and awareness. Random drug testing in schools, the topic of this essay, is developing into a complementary method of drug abuse prevention, potentially more robust than education alone, given its invasive nature and tendency to publicly identify a drug user to his or her peers.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was established in 1988 with the charge of reducing the national and international drug concerns impacting our society. These charges include promoting awareness and developing and supporting programs to impact drug utilization--which in turn have an impact on health, crime, education and the economy. President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union Address suggested that a governmental role in promoting personal responsibility for choices would have an impact on inappropriate drug use in the population. President Barack Obama's 2013 National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) emphasizes the scientific basis of what Obama calls "a balanced public health and safety and public safety approach" (ONDCP, 2013, p. 1). Reducing the prevalence of drug use by children, adolescents, and young adults is all part of the 2013 NDCS's goal of curtailing illegal drug use in the United States by 2015 (ONCDP, 2013, p. 3).
Review of the literature does not provide robust enough studies to quantitatively support the theory that random drug testing alone deters adolescent drug use. While empirical research has shown that testing may have a favorable impact when implemented under certain circumstances, randomized controlled trials have also shown otherwise.
The variety of key stakeholders with interest in random drug testing in schools must be recognized to appreciate the complexity and motivation behind their arguments either promoting or arguing this controversial practice.
A non-exhaustive list of stakeholders includes:
* The Federal Government.
* The ONDCP.
* Private Industry - drug testing suppliers.
* Parents and students.
* School administrators, teachers, advisors.
* Extracurricular school sports coaches and colleges.
* Healthcare Industry - including medical and behavioral providers and the insurance industry.
* Society at large.
The practice of random drug testing in schools elicits strong responses from individuals and groups because of multivariate concerns which are to be expected with governmentally driven initiatives that seem to impact our core values of liberty, privacy, and autonomy. Common themes emerge in the literature and the media surrounding the topic of this article (Figure 1).
SWOT Analysis of Drug Testing
SWOT analysis (comparisons of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) below, contrasts the factors and values involved in random school drug testing initiatives and the context in which the programs are developed and assessed (Figure 2).
Figure 2: SWOT Analysis
Strengths * Creates a culture of disapproval in school. * Promotes an understanding of future drug testing required by employers and the military. * Sends a message that the school is serious about combating drug use. * Improves academics and health. * Improves likelihood of college. * May be a potent deterrent. * Decreases absenteeism. * Surveillance theory - less likely if someone is checking. Weaknesses * Possible labeling of young person that tested positive * Questions privacy violation. * Schools may not support in belief that testing is not their role. * May detract from school's primary role of education. * Inconsistencies in response to positive tests. * Does not include kids in the development and planning. * Limited research on efficacy. * Some kids boast of positive findings -- for some a popularity boost. * Parents can decline as not compulsory in some schools. * Insufficient research to support efficacy. * Testing athletes may be targeting those least likely to use drugs (as opposed to kids not participating in extracurricular school activities). Opportunities * Identifies kids who need help. * Allows young people to decline by decreasing peer pressure. * Non-punitive; allows for provision of counseling, legal counsel. * Can have positive effect on peers who are using drugs. * Causes more kids to stay in school. * Identifies "users" on sports teams who may represent a danger to others. Threats * Kids who use can change to less detectable drugs. * Schools which do not have resources to assist kids who test positive. * Difficulties getting assistance due to resource shortages. * If not random, drug users can change behavior with notice and still test negative. * False positives, a possibility in most lab testing settings. * Seen as surveillance and a threat. * Privacy issues when positive tests expose legal prescription drug use. * Undermining of educator and student relationship and trust. * Considered unconstitutional.
Detractors cite costs driven by illegal drug use in kids, while supporters cite empirical evidence of favorable influence.
The following is from a 2007 USA Today article:
"In the past, we've supported random drug testing for safety workers and athletes but have been doubtful about the intrusiveness, costs and fairness of broad-based student testing Those remain valid concerns. But so do the societal costs of drug use, which -- like smoking -- almost always begins during the teen years. Federal statistics show that almost 5% of 12-to-17-year-olds abused or were dependent on an illicit substance in 2005 -- more than 1 million kids. The most popular illicit drug, marijuana, is more potent and dangerous today than it was a generation ago. Yet months or years can pass before even the most involved parents realize a child is using drugs, by which time treatment is much tougher" ("Random drug testing spreads ," 2007).
"Advocates of testing say it gives students a powerful reason to say no to peer pressure. Critics are just as passionate, arguing that the tests are invasive and expensive, and that studies show testing doesn't deter drug use. In truth, data conflict, and both sides can point to studies that back their position" ("Random drug testing spreads ," 2007).
"For its supporters, random drug testing sends out an important message to schoolchildren. 'It provides them with a suit of armour against peer pressure, enabling them to say no to drugs,' says John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Since 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that schools could drug-test middle and high-school students participating in extracurricular activities, the US has seen a rapid increase in such testing" (McKenna, 2007).
McKenna reports that the "ONDCP and others in favor of testing claim that a number of studies have shown it works. These include a survey in which 80 percent of high-school principals in Indiana reported an increase in drug use after the cessation of a state-wide testing program in 2000; a study by the US Department of Defense which found that drug use among military personnel decreased from 27 percent to less than 1 percent in the 25 years following the introduction of random drug tests; and research by Oregon Health & Science University in Portland which found that drug use was 14 percent lower in a school that used random drug testing compared with one that didn't -- although it only compared these two schools" (McKenna, 2007, ¶5).
Accuracy of any laboratory testing is a concern; false positives can occur in any testing facility; an adolescent whose drug testing is done in a public school forum faces loss of confidentiality and more emotional and social injury than if he or she had a...
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