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More Schools to Drug Test Students As Early as Age 11

Administrator giving student a urine sample cup in order to complete a drug test  

In 2002, Board of Education v. Earls voted forward policies by the Supreme Court that allowed drug testing in schools. The vote was largely accomplished due to the prevalence of underage drug use in schools. While drug testing high school athletes have a significant history in public schools, randomly testing all students is increasing. One school in Fort Scott, Kansas, is planning to randomly drug test children as young as 11. If drugs are found, most school districts have a system in place for parent notification and disciplinary measures, including exclusion from school activities and sports.

Drug Testing Increases as Drug Prevention Strategies Drop

Random drug testing in schools is a subject that leads to debate among policymakers. Many question whether drug testing in middle school is ethical or necessary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsored a study in 2016 that reviewed school health policies and practices, finding that:

  • 63.9% of elementary schools, 79.7% of middle schools and 86% of high schools incorporated drug use prevention messages in their health instruction
  • 40.1% of schools required alcohol or drug use prevention continuing education for educators
  • 19% of schools had a specific policy that offered some form of drug use treatment to students
  • 44.7% of schools had a referral process for students who needed treatment for alcohol or drug use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that high school drug testing and other testing inside schools can be performed based on observations by school officials or a student exhibiting physical symptoms or behaviors that suggest drug use.

Teen peer pressure and numerous other factors impact whether teens will use drugs at school, or come to school with drugs in their systems. Peer pressure can be negative or positive, silent or spoken. Part of preventing drug use in teens is to carefully observe their friendships and understand what kind of social pressure they may be regularly exposed to.

Legalized Marijuana and Opioid Epidemic Keeps School Officials Concerned

The reasons for drug testing in schools have shifted as more states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use and as the opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of adolescents. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, teen drug abuse includes prescription drugs. In 2016, 3.6% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to misused opioids within the past year. In 2018, 32.5% of 12th graders believed that opioids were easy to obtain. Ease of access to both opioids and marijuana heightens the concern of school officials and may strengthen the argument for random drug testing.

Drug Testing Remains a Questionable Prevention Strategy

Drug prevention programs have been a primary strategy for officials and educators throughout the country. However, the effectiveness of drug testing in schools has frequently been questioned. The high school drug testing debate includes promoters and detractors for the process. The U.S. Department of Education published a study on the effectiveness of randomly testing students for drugs. In 2010, they found that many students do not perceive different consequences at schools that drug test versus schools that do not drug test.

It is difficult to assess whether mandatory, random drug testing is an effective deterrent for drug use, as many variables inform these and other statistics. Many schools feel the tests are helpful and are using this process as a way to discourage student drug use.

Identifying and Supporting At-Risk Youth Is Still a Good Approach

In 2019, youth mental health services gained legal traction at a federal level. The Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2019 provides an extension of school-based mental health care. Programs that provide these services are typically the same ones that provide drug prevention. Whether someone is pro-drug testing or anti-drug testing in schools, there is universal support for empowering young people to overcome mental health issues.

If you or a teen you know is struggling with substance abuse or any kind of addiction, Next Generation Village offers special resources and services to help with recovery. Call today to learn more about specialty programs designed for teens.

Sources:

Congress.gov. “H.R.1109 – Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2019.” 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Department of Health and Human Services. “Opioids and Adolescents.” Updated May 13, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Greenhouse, Linda. “THE SUPREME COURT: DRUG TESTS; Justices Allow Schools Wider Use Of Random Drug Tests for Pupils.” The New York Times, June 28, 2002. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Testing in Schools.” Updated May 2017. Accessed September 20, 2019.

School Health Policies and Practices Study. “Results from the School Health Policies and Practices Study.” 2016. Accessed September 20, 2019.

U.S. Department of Education. “The Effectiveness of MandatoryRandom Student Drug Testing.” 2010. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Ungar, Laura. “School districts double down on drug testing, targeting even middle schoolers.” Kaiser Health News, September 4, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

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