Published on: 03/25/2004
Today in Atlanta, concerned parents will meet with regional school officials, drug prevention specialists and student assistance professionals to discuss the promise of a powerful new tool to fight drug use among America’s youth.
Building on the 11 percent decline in teen drug use America has witnessed in the past two years, random student drug testing — locally controlled, nonpunitive and designed to get help for those in trouble — can help consolidate and further our progress.
Addiction is a paediatric-onset disease that needs a public health response. In much the same way that school tuberculosis tests identify children who are sick and can spread a dangerous disease, student drug testing helps identify kids who have a problem with drugs and prevents the spread of the disease of addiction.
Each child prevented from using drugs means there is one fewer child able to pass the disease of addiction to his or her peers, and we know that if we can prevent children from using drugs in their teen years, they are much less likely to go on and use drugs later in life.
In the past decade, the nation’s acceptance of student drug testing has increased, hastened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling that drug testing students in extracurricular activities is constitutionally protected.
President Bush highlighted this policy as an effective prevention and intervention instrument during his State of the Union speech in January, and backed up his position with a call for increased federal funds for schools that would like to start these programs. This momentum in favour of student drug testing is based on the demonstrated effectiveness of random testing programs to deter use, and a more educated public understanding that student drug test results can only be used confidentially to help students, not to punish them.
Random drug testing of students in extracurricular activities is effective because it demonstrates that a community has set a serious standard for its youth. In addition to creating a culture of disapproval toward drugs, student drug testing also achieves three public health goals:
• It deters children from initiating drug use;
• It identifies children who have just started using drugs so that parents and counsellors can intervene early;
• It helps identify children who have a dependency on drugs so that they can be referred to effective drug treatment.
According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, a school in Oregon that randomly drug tested student athletes had a rate of drug use that was one-quarter that of a comparable school with no drug testing policy.
After two years of a drug testing program, Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey saw significant reductions in 20 of 28 drug use categories, including a drop in cocaine use by seniors from 13 percent to 4 percent. The U.S. military saw drug use rates drop from 27 percent in 1981 to 3 percent today, thanks to the introduction of random drug testing.