Study Finds Drug Testing in Schools Has Only Small Effect in Reducing Substance Use

Conducting drug tests in high schools appears to have only a small effect in reducing substance use, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found the tests had no influence on male students, and only a slight impact on females—but only in some schools.

The Los Angeles Times reports the nationwide study of 943 students found 27 percent said their schools had a drug testing policy. For girls, drug testing only had an effect if they attended schools that had a positive school climate, where the students and adults respect one another and the rules of the school are clear and enforced fairly.

“This study sends a cautionary note to the estimated 20 percent or more of high schools that have joined the drug testing bandwagon,” study co-author Dan Romer said in a news release. “We find little evidence that this approach to minimizing teen drug use is having the deterrent effect its proponents claim.”

The article notes the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools encourages drug testing in schools. The study appears in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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    karla broome

    October 20, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    i believe drug testing helps the school stop drug use

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    Fred C

    September 7, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Education has been shown to be effective; Telling them lies works against. Any behavioralist will tell you that punichment has proven totally ineffective except in a closed environment like prison or a mental hospital. Give these young men and women a purpose for their life and they will startle you. They turn to drugs because they see no reason for their continued “good” behavior.

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    Eric Wood, MA LCAC CADAC II

    August 23, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Interesting points, to be sure. But what would you, Joshua and Ken, recommend as a more effective solution? I’m seeing younger and younger kids in my practice choosing this path. Also, having participated in a community task force which invests a lot of money in school drug testing, I’d love to hear ideas on how to invest that money in a more effective way.

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    Ken Wolski, RN

    August 20, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I agree drug testing in schools is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
    It is designed to catch the least harmful drug—marijuana—because marijuana is detectable for up to 30 days after use. This only encourages teens to use more harmful drugs like alcohol and opiates which are not detectable as long.
    This quasi-medical procedure corrupts the nurse/doctor-patient relationship and the teacher-student relationship as well.
    Now we find that it is an expensive waste of time in the first place in terms of discouraging teen use.

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    August 19, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    The question is, how is random drug testing in public high schools not totally unconstritutional? agents of the government are taking blood or urine from minors without warrents (or even parent’s permission most likely). that it is completely ineffective is inflamatory to be sure, but not nearly so much as that it is allowed to happen in the first place.

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