NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drug Test Does Not Deter Student Drug Use

May 19, 2003

Drug testing in schools does not deter student drug use any more than doing no screening at all, according to a new federally financed study of 76,000 students nationwide, by far the largest to date. The study, published last month in The Journal of School Health, found that drug use is just as common in schools with testing as in those without it.

Researchers found that whether looking at marijuana or harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, or middle school pupils compared with high school students, the fact that their schools tested for drugs showed no signs of slowing their drug use.

  • The study also found that 37 percent of 12th graders in schools that tested for drugs said they had smoked marijuana in the last year, compared with 36 percent in schools that did not.
  • Similarly, 21 percent of 12th graders in schools with testing said they had used other illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin in the last year, while 19 percent of their counterparts in schools without screening said they had done so.
  • The same pattern held for every other drug and grade level.

"It suggests that there really isn't an impact from drug testing as practiced," Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, a study researcher from the University of Michigan, said. "It's the kind of intervention that doesn't win the hearts and minds of children. I don't think it brings about any constructive changes in their attitudes about drugs or their belief in the dangers associated with using them."

Source: Greg Winter, "Study Finds No Sign That Testing Deters Students' Drug Use," New York Times, May 17, 2003.


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