Drug testing in schools is ineffective, leads to unintended consequences
A new Penn study concludes a positive school climate is a better deterrent.
School drug tests do little to discourage students from consuming marijuana and may lead to unintended consequences.
Far from stopping drug use, students may seek out illicit substances other than marijuana. And false positives may cause some innocent students to be incorrectly labeled as drug users, paradoxically leading to an increased risk of future drug use, according to a paper released Monday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
“So as a prevention effort, school drug testing is kind of wrong-headed,” said Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center.
“Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it’s not working.”
At least 28 percent of high school students are currently subject to drug testing, according to the study.
The researchers say other approaches to drug-use prevention are more effective – and less expensive. Fostering a positive school climate by creating a more inclusive culture in the school can reduce substance use, and that should be the focus of drug prevention efforts, the authors conclude.
“Young people whose relationships with their fellow students and teachers lack respect are more likely to initiate and escalate use of drugs… and to be subject to other mental health problems,” wrote Romer and Sharon R. Sznitman.
Romer and Sznitman surveyed a pool of 334 high school students for their study. The students were asked if they had ever smoked a cigarette, had a drink of beer, wine or liquor, or smoked marijuana or hashish.
A combination of extracurricular activities with drug testing resulted in “less marijuana use than those not tested,” they wrote, but the use of other substances increased and students who did not participate in the extracurricular sports and clubs - those at greatest risk for drug use - were not tested.
It comes as little surprise that the researchers found that underage drinking is far more prevalent among high school students and cause for greater concern.
“The whole culture uses alcohol,” Romer told the Journal. “And you’re fighting something that has widespread marketing behind it.