This article originally appeared in USA Today.
Though touted by the Bush administration as the "silver bullet" that will force teenagers to "just say no," random drug testing is of questionable effectiveness. It is also costly, counterproductive and violates basic American values. That's why the million-member California State PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and the majority of the nation's school districts oppose school-based drug testing.
According to the Academy of Pediatrics, "There is little evidence of the effectiveness of school-based drug testing in the scientific literature." In fact, the only federally funded, peer-reviewed study, which compared 94,000 students in 900 U.S. schools, found no difference in illegal drug use between schools with and without a testing program.
Before subjecting secondary school students to a policy as invasive as random drug testing, evidence of its efficacy should be more conclusive than anecdotes offered by a few enthusiastic proponents and a drug testing industry that stands to reap billions.
Drug testing is costly. With federal grants, individual schools, many of them strapped for funds, spend between $10,000 and $40,000 per year for testing. This money could be used more productively for sports, arts, drama, music and other extracurricular activities that keep teens engaged between3 and 6 p.m., when they are bored and unsupervised. The funds could also be used to hire credentialed counselors who could focus full-time on substance abuse and related mental health issues.
Drug testing, regardless of how it's packaged, is an invasive diagnostic procedure. Like other health issues, alcohol and other drug use should first and foremost be the domain of parents and physicians. If parents want to drug-test their own children, they can easily buy over-the-counter kits at their local pharmacies or see their family doctors, leaving schools out of it.
There is no quick fix for the complex issue of substance abuse. Quality drug education and after-school programs that help students thrive will best result in the kind of responsible decision-making that endures beyond the teen years and into adulthood.
Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, directs the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance. She is the author of Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs and Drug Education.