Schools that institute student drug testing programs are likely to experience a rise in students’ consumption of ‘hard’ drugs, according to observational trial data published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers at the University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research analyzed the impact of student drug testing programs in some 250,000 high-school and middle-school students over a 14 year period. Investigators reported that random drug testing programs of the student body and programs specifically targeting student athletes were associated with “moderately lower marijuana use,” but cautioned that drug testing programs overall were “associated with increased use of illicit drugs other than marijuana.”
An estimated 14 percent of middle school students and 28 per cent of US high school students are now subject to some form of drug testing.
Urinalysis, the most common form of student drug testing, screens for the presence of inert drug metabolites (breakdown products), not the actual parent drug. Because marijuana’s primary metabolite, carboxy-THC, is fat soluble, it may be present in urine for days, weeks, or in some cases even months after past use. By contrast, most other illicit drug metabolites are water soluble and will exit the body within a matter of hours. Authors of the study speculated that students subjected to drug screens were switching from cannabis to other illicit drugs which possessed shorter detection times.
“Random SDT (student drug testing) among the general high school student population, as well as middle and high school subgroups targeted for testing, was associated with moderately lower marijuana use; however, most forms of testing were associated with moderately higher use of other illicit drugs, particularly in high school,” the authors concluded. “These findings raise the question of whether SDT is worth this apparent tradeoff.”
Commenting on the findings, the study’s lead author affirmed, “It is clear that drug testing is not providing the solution for substance-use prevention that its advocates claim.”
Previous assessments of student drug testing programs have reported that those subjected to such programs are no less likely to report consuming illicit drugs, tobacco, or alcohol than their peers.
The abstract of the study, “Middle and High School Drug Testing and Student Illicit Drug Use: A National Study 1998–2011,” is available online here.