Drug testing in schools does not deter student drug use any more than doing no screening at all, the first large-scale national study has found, the New York Times reports. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice empowered schools to test for drugs, first among student athletes in 1995, then last year for those in other extracurricular activities. Both times, it cited the role that screening plays in combating substance abuse as a rationale for impinging on student privacy rights.
The new federally financed study of 76,000 students nationwide found that drug use is just as common in schools with testing as in those without it. Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, a study researcher from the University of Michigan, said, “It’s the kind of intervention that doesn’t win the hearts and minds of children. I don’t think it brings about any constructive changes in their attitudes about drugs or their belief in the dangers associated with using them.”
The study, published last month in The Journal of School Health found that 37 percent of 12th graders in schools that tested for drugs said they had smoked marijuana in the last year, compared with 36 percent in schools that did not. Such a slight deviation is statistically insignificant, meaning that the results are essentially identical. The same pattern held for every other drug and grade level.
“Obviously, the justices did not have the benefit of this study,” said Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case against drug testing before the Supreme Court last year. “Now there should be no reason for a school to impose an intrusive or even insulting drug test when it’s not going to do anything about student drug use.”
The Michigan study found that only 18 percent of the nation’s schools did any kind of screening from 1998 to 2001, most of them high schools.