Drug Testing will NOT Solve the Problem

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Here’s a copy of a LTE (letter to the editor) that I wrote and appeared in a recent edition of the Boone County Journal.
——–
Ashland is a great community, full of individuals who care about their neighbors. The spirit of kinship that I have witnessed countless times never ceases to amaze me. A string of recent youth-related tragedies have left many of us looking for solutions to create an even better and safer environment. One solution on the table is drug testing in our schools.

While I applaud this noble gesture, I question its effectiveness. Many government programs produce the opposite of that intended by its authors. For example, the presence of seat belts in automobiles has caused many drivers to drive more recklessly, stricter security at airports causes more people to drive on far-riskier highways and the introduction of child-resistant safety caps have actually increased the incidence of poisonings (because bottles have been left out in reach of children with the presumption of safety).

There is ample data that suggests school drug-testing programs produce a similar boomerang effect. Several prominent researchers and groups have documented the harmful effects of school drug testing. The Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, and the American Public Health Association are part of a coalition of national organizations who oppose suspicionless drug-testing in schools.

Here are some of the reasons why:

• Drug testing kids who are not suspected of drug use communicates that we do not trust or respect them. This makes them less likely to be open and truthful with adults about their drug usage.

• Parents are best suited to make decisions about how their children are raised. For schools to decide when to drug test students, especially when there is no suspicion of usage, robs parents of their decision-making power.

• We know that the majority of teenage drug use occurs in the unsupervised 2-3 hours after school. Driving teenagers away from after-school, extra-curricular activities will remove them from the one of the most positive environments we can offer.

• The proposed policy will likely force those with serious drug-related problems to quit extra-curricular activities. Thus, we won’t be testing and treating students most in need of our help, but rather those with a high likelihood of not using drugs.

• Youth who are determined to outwit drug testing will find ways to do so. One oft-used method is to switch from marijuana, which can linger in the system for days, to more harmful, but highly-less detectable drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.

• Alcohol – the major drug used by teenagers – is not even detected by tests.

• There has not been a single, well-done study that shows random drug testing actually decreases youth drug use.

For all these reasons, many school districts have discontinued suspicionless drug-testing programs because the cost far outweighed any real benefit. This money would be better spent on activities that enrich the quality of education (e.g., books, computers, teacher salaries, field trips…) or on proven drug-education programs rooted in safety and trust (e.g., after-school programs, substance abuse programs and on-site drug & counseling programs).

We should focus our limited resources on those individual youth that are at high risk. Policies designed to work with individual kids who use drugs that involve meaningful sanctions and a chance to get their feet back on the ground will lead to much more effective results.

As a community, we all want the same thing – to greatly reduce or eliminate the use of harmful drugs among our youth. However, the policy as outlined today would only make us feel better. It would do little to fix the problem and could quite possibly make it worse.

P.S. I doubt the currently-proposed policy would stand up in court. The Supreme Court allowed drug testing of students in athletics and other competitive extracurricular activities (e.g., chess club, debate team, FFA, choir, cheerleading…). A parking permit hardly meets this criterion.

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