Efficacy Of Student Drug Testing Not Backed By Evidence, Study Says

Layerthorpe, United Kingdom: There exists little “high-quality evidence” to support the premise that student drug testing deters drug use, and there are indications that the procedure may be “potentially damaging” to youth drug prevention efforts, according to a study released this week in Britain by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“Whilst the theory behind [random student] drug testing is plausible enough, the evidence for it is remarkably thin,” says the report. It notes that “very few independent and rigorous evaluations have been conducted to identify the impact of drug testing programs in school,” and that among those studies that have taken place, “The evidence that programs lead to a reduction in use is far from conclusive.”

For example, a 2004 US federal study of 76,000 students by the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research found no difference in illegal drug use among students in schools that drug test versus those that do not.

The Rowntree report further warns that imposing suspicionless, random drug testing upon students could be a “potentially damaging” approach to drug prevention because the program “could undermine trust between pupils and staff,” and “encourage some pupils to switch from [the] use of cannabis … that can be traced a relatively long time after use, to drugs that are cleared from the body much more quickly, including heroin.”

The report concluded that UK government officials should “avoid the ad hoc proliferation of random [student] drug testing programs until such time as there are clear data on effectiveness.”

The publication of the Rowntree study came on the same day that the White House released its 2005 “National Drug Strategy,” which calls for a record $25.4 million in federal tax dollars to be spent “supporting schools in the design and implementation of [drug testing] programs designed to screen selected students randomly.” The White House report further states that the US government had previously funded the implementation of suspicionless student drug testing programs in 79 middle school and high schools, and hopes to greatly increase the number of schools that employ drug testing – calling it “powerful, safe, and effective.”

Responding to the White House’s support for student drug testing, the Rowntree report commented, “Testing programs have been developed in the United States in advance of the research needed to assess their efficacy.”

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, entitled “Random Drug Testing of Schoolchildren: A shot in the arm or a shot in the foot for drug prevention,” is available online at: