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Pediatrician Group Says No to In-School Drug Testing

doctor examining a child in a hospitalThe issue of drug and alcohol use on high school campuses is undeniably a problem in the United States – in some schools more so than others. In an effort to deter those who would get high or drunk during school hours, there have been a number of options suggested. One of the most controversial suggestions recently has been the implementation of in-school drug testing. Some schools think it’s a great way to identify teens who are under the influence and connect them with the help they need to heal, but many parents do not agree. As advocacy groups, student groups, and parents go back and forth amongst themselves, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has spoken up and asserted their opinion. According to Reuters, the AAP soundly opposes randomized drug testing on school campuses. In a policy statement, the AAP said that where there was no suspicion of drug or alcohol use, there was little evidence that choosing to impose drug testing was an effective choice. Additionally, they said that the practice may bring with it potential unwanted risks as well. The AAP also wrote in the policy statement: “Pediatricians support the development of effective substance abuse services in schools, along with appropriate referral policies in place for adolescents struggling with substance abuse disorders.”

Ineffective Measures

Some schools have implemented mandatory drug testing prior to allowing students try out for extracurricular sports teams. Others require athletes to submit to randomized drug testing throughout the school year to ensure the integrity of competition. Still others are trying to implement random drug testing among students, no matter what their involvement in afterschool activities, or whether or not there is any indication that they may in fact be struggling with substance abuse and therefore require intervention. While some research indicates that the introduction of random drug testing at schools does positively impact the rates of drug and alcohol abuse on campus for a short time, other research does not – and the research that does support it may be flawed. For example, studies done have been small and short in duration; thus, there is little evidence to support whether or not the reduction in drug and alcohol use lasts longer than the novelty of the new rule. Additionally, no studies have also included alcohol. Sharon Levy was the lead author of the policy statement released by the AAP. She told Reuters. “It’s possible that you do get some prevention out of these programs, but on the other hand, it seems very expensive, very invasive, and has pretty limited results.” She also noted that because teens often use drugs and alcohol sporadically, it is not generally difficult for them to abstain long enough to pass a test in order to try out for a sports team or clear an annual drug test – and then go back to drinking and/or using drugs per usual. Other potential issues include:
  • The creation of a distrustful relationship between students and staff
  • The question of whether or not enforcing such a policy is a breach of the child’s rights, especially if the parents do not agree
  • Opening up student medical records to possible breaches in confidentiality
  • Possible false positive results and wrongly interpreted results that negatively impact a student’s academic or extracurricular growth

When Drug Testing Works

There are some instances where drug testing may be an effective choice for teens. Specifically, if teens have struggled with substance abuse in the past, then it may be helpful to drug test them on occasion to ensure that they are remaining clean and sober. Outpatient drug addiction treatment programs for teens and adults routinely engage in this practice to help make sure that patients are receiving the level of care that they need to avoid relapse. Similarly, it may be an effective part of addressing the situation if a student is found in possession of drugs or alcohol, or if they are selling or purchasing substances on campus. If students know that there is accountability following an infraction, it may help to limit their use of drugs and alcohol while they undergo treatment.

Renewed Efforts to Reach Kids in Need

Teens may be exceptionally skilled at hiding early drug and alcohol use, and schools are on the right track in their intention to identify kids who are in need of intervention early on. Though implementing drug testing may not be the most effective way to accomplish this goal, other possible options may include:
  • Offering parents the option to request randomized drug testing for their child
  • Increasing educational efforts to help teens understand the risks associated with drug and alcohol use during teen years
  • Increasing educational efforts to help parents understand the risks of teen drug and alcohol abuse and how they can help in prevention efforts
  • Increasing communication between teachers and parents, especially when there is a concern at home or at school that may indicate drug or alcohol use in a child

When Treatment Is Necessary

Whether or not drug testing is used to identify an ongoing struggle with drugs and alcohol, if your teen cannot or will not stop use of substances, it’s important to take immediate action. A range of treatment services may be effective in helping your child to stop using all drugs and alcohol safely as well as learn how to remain sober in the future. Services should:
  • Be teen-specific
  • Communicate with parents
  • Offer different levels of intervention, depending upon the needs of the child
  • Provide aftercare support
  • Offer academic assistance if inpatient
  • Provide treatment for co-occurring mental health, behavioral, and learning disorders
What do you think of the idea of random drug testing in high school? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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