Drug testing in schools lacks evidence, pediatricians say

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Back in the 1990s, as part of the “war on drugs,” many schools began randomly testing students for illicit substances. The government even provided grants to help fund testing programs. But a new report by the Academy American Academy of Pediatrics argues there’s not enough evidence to say it works.

    “There’s really only one good study,” said Dan Romer, the associate director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, who was not an author of the policy paper.

    While that study found testing resulted in a temporary decline in drug use, its success was temporary and limited.

    “It had no effect on the kids who weren’t eligible to be tested,” said Romer. “Those are the kids who don’t do sports, or extracurricular activities, and they’re more likely to use drugs.”

    Another concern is that certain drugs — including the most commonly abused substance, alcohol — usually go undetected because they pass through the body too quickly. The academy also advises school officials who continue testing to be wary of an uptick in the use of drugs that aren’t part of the screening process.

    While Romer agrees with the academy’s position, he is nevertheless skeptical that the announcement will shift school policy much.

    “A lot of school boards think it’s something they can do,” he said. “It won’t cost them a lot of money, and they can feel like they’re trying to do something.”

    Romer’s research has found that improving a school’s climate, or the relationships between students and faculty, might be a more effective strategy in reducing the number of students smoking marijuana and tobacco.

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