This week, the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU announced the distribution of their booklet "Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators are Saying No"
to more than 24,000 school administrators nationwide. The booklet summarizes the latest research on student drug testing, and is intended to equip educators to make an informed decision.
The Bush administration has been promoting student drug testing heavily in recent months, but the government has come under fire for its lack of scientific standards, as the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report this week accusing the administration of widespread distortion of scientific findings. Critics say the administration's stance on student drug testing provides more evidence of shoddy science.
"Drug testing is humiliating, costly and ineffective, but it's an easy anti-drug soundbite for the White House," said Judy Appel, Deputy Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "'Making Sense...;' is for the people and educators across the country who've got to make serious decisions about young people's safety. They need the actual research, not slogans and junk science."
Meanwhile, in the UK this week, Tony Blair was forced to withdraw a proposal to randomly drug test children, after a huge backlash from educators, parents and police officers.
"British educators have succeeded in protecting their pupils' rights, and we hope that 'Making Sense...;' will help their American counterparts do the same," said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project. "This publication dispels the myth that student drug testing is the magic solution to ensuring our kids' safety in schools. It does not reduce drug use among students. It drives them away from extracurricular activities, which are a proven means of keeping them out of trouble with drugs."
The 24-page booklet highlights the first nation-wide scientific study of the effectiveness of random, suspicionless drug testing in deterring teenage drug use. The study, published in the Journal of School Health in April 2003, showed no difference in the rates of illicit drug use among students in schools that have drug testing policies and in schools that do not have such policies. The federally funded study was conducted by experienced researchers, one of whom directs Monitoring the Future, the federal government's leading survey of trends in student drug use and attitudes about drugs.
Despite the scientific evidence and expert opinion that discredits expensive student drug testing, last year the federal government gave grants that averaged $250,000 to eight schools for the implementation of drug testing programs, and in this year's federal budget, President Bush has proposed $23 million in grants for schools to implement drug testing policies.
The booklet includes a cost-benefit analysis of implementing such policies. Drug testing costs schools an average of $42 per student tested, which amounts to $21,000 for a high school testing 500 students. This figure is for the initial test alone and does not include the costs of confirmation tests, other processing costs, legal fees or treatment and counseling costs for students who test positive.
In the seventeen states where school officials have considered or implemented student drug testing programs, superintendents, school board presidents, principals, administrators, parent teacher associations and teachers unions will receive the booklet. In other states, only school board presidents will receive the booklet.
"School districts across the country are in financial crisis," said Appel. "Random, suspicionless student drug testing programs are an ineffective use of scarce resources, which would be much better spent on counselors who can help identify and treat students who do have drug problems or on extracurricular activities."
Other information in the booklet describes the legal implications and responsibilities associated with student drug testing, the unintended harms it can pose on students, and alternatives to this misguided policy.
"Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators are Saying No" can be found online at www.drugtestingfails.org
or at www.aclu.org/drugpolicy
. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Comprehensive, rigorous, and respected research shows that there are many reasons why random student drug testing is not good policy:
Drug testing is not effective in deterring drug use among young people
Drug testing is expensive, taking away scarce dollars from other, more effective programs that keep young people out of trouble with drugs
Drug testing can be legally risky, exposing schools to potentially costly litigation
Drug testing--as currently practiced-- may drive students away from extracurricular activities, which are a good way to help students stay out of trouble with drugs
Drug testing can undermine trust relationships between students and teachers and between parents and their children
Drug testing can produce false positives, resulting in the punishment of innocent students
Drug testing does not effectively identify students who have serious problems with drugs
Drug testing may lead to unintended consequences, such as students using drugs that are more dangerous but less detectable by drug tests, and students learning the wrong constitutional lessons
There are alternatives to drug testing that emphasize education, discussion, counseling, extracurricular activities, and that build trust between students and adults.