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Understanding Drug Testing in Schools

What is Drug Testing in Schools All About?

There are two forms of drug testing that some schools have initiated. One is random drug testing and the other is reasonable suspicion/cause testing. A school can conduct either one or both kinds of testing.

  • During random drug testing schools select, using a random process, one or more individuals from the student population to undergo drug testing. Currently, random drug testing can only be conducted among students who participate in competitive extracurricular activities.
  • Reasonable suspicion/cause drug testing is when a school requires a student to provide a urine specimen when there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the student may have used an illicit substance. Typically, this involves the direct observations made by school officials that a student has used or possesses illicit substances, exhibits physical symptoms of being under the influence, and has patterns of abnormal or erratic behavior.

Does the Federal Government Mandate Student Drug Testing?

In June 1995, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that random drug testing of student athletes is constitutional, student athletes can be required to submit to random drug testing.

In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. The court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.

Is Random Drug Testing of Students Legal?

No. The federal government recognized drug testing as one tool that local schools can choose as a component of a broad drug prevention effort.

Why Do Some Schools Want to Conduct Random Drug Tests?

Schools that have adopted random student drug testing are hoping to decrease drug abuse among students for two main reasons:

  1. These schools hope that random testing will serve as a deterrent, and give students a reason to resist peer pressure to take drugs.
  2. Drug testing can identify adolescents who have started using drugs so that interventions can occur early, or identify adolescents who already have drug problems, so they can be referred for treatment.

Is Student Drug Testing a Stand-Alone Solution, or Do Schools Need Other Programs to Prevent and Reduce Drug Use?

Drug testing should never be undertaken as a stand-alone response to a drug problem. If testing is done, it should be a component of broader prevention, intervention and treatment programs, with the common goal of reducing students' drug use. Drug prevention programs vary from school to school.

If a Student Tests Positive for Drugs, Should That Student Face Disciplinary Consequences?

The primary purpose of drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs but to prevent drug abuse and to help students already using become drug-free. The results of a positive drug test should be used to intervene with students who do not yet have drug problems, through counseling and follow-up testing. For students that are diagnosed with addiction, parents and a school administrator can refer them to effective drug treatment programs, to begin the recovery process.

Why Test Teenagers At All?

Teens are especially vulnerable to drug abuse, when the brain and body are still developing. Most teens do not use drugs, but for those who do, it can lead to a wide range of adverse effects on the brain, the body, behavior and health. Repeated drug use can also lead to the disease of addiction. Studies show that the earlier a teen begins using drugs, the more likely he or she will develop a substance abuse problem or addiction.

What Testing Methods are Available?

There are several testing methods available that use urine, hair, oral fluids and sweat (patch). These methods vary in cost, reliability, drugs detected and detection period.

What About Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug, and its use is a serious problem among young people. However, alcohol does not remain in the blood long enough for most tests to detect recent use.

How Accurate Are Drug Tests? Is There a Possibility a Test Could Give a False Positive?

Tests are very accurate but not 100% accurate. Usually samples are divided so if an initial test is positive a confirmation test can be conducted. Federal guidelines are in place to ensure accuracy and fairness in drug testing programs

If you have questions or are concerned about a teen or adolescent you know, contact Gateway and let us provide you with the answers you need.

Gateway offers a free, in-depth, confidential screening to determine the nature and extent of your adolescent or teenagers alcohol or drug problem. Contact us today at 877-505-HOPE (877-505-4673).