18 Feb 2013

Random Drug Testing Students-Boon or Boondoggle?

3 Comments Campus Security, Featured Articles

In the ongoing efforts to curb drug use in students, lawmakers and educators have searched for an effective program, most yielding marginal or completely ineffective results. The latest efforts are expanding the use of random drug testing students within the wider student populations, originally limited to students participating in extra-curricular activities. Programs are now being expanded in some school districts to include all students, not just those participating in after school activities.

day time drug abuse

Random Drug Testing Students-Do These Programs Work?

One of the most important questions to answer when deciding whether to fund various tax-payer funded programs is whether it is actually doing what it is supposed to do. Various studies have been done, some touting the effectiveness of random drug testing and others finding no correlation between random drug testing and incidence of drug use within student populations. Some of these studies rely upon self-reporting by students themselves, such as the 2003 study by the University of Michigan. Other studies are questionable due to the connection of the initiators of the study to the drug test kit industry with a vested interest in the outcome of those studies. While further studies are in process now, there are no definitive, credible studies that clearly indicate random drug testing is either effective or ineffective.

Other Aspects to Consider in Random Drug Testing Students

The use of illicit drugs in student populations is a complex problem with wide ranging causes and variations in the reasons for illicit drug use to address. Disengaged parents, parents who are abusers themselves, boredom, gang membership and general peer pressure, not to mention cultural glorification of pop culture icons history of drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to illicit drug use in younger and younger students. While random drug testing may prevent some students who would be a marginal risk for drug use anyway, in other cases, especially with students in gangs or growing up in a home where parents abuse drugs, testing is less likely to be effective.

To further muddy the issue, efforts are underway to de-criminalize some drugs and revamp laws governing how drug abusers are dealt with in the criminal justice system. In other words, a clear understanding and strategy to define drug use, abuse and what should be illicit is currently in flux. When adults cannot clearly answer this question, it is no surprise that children, who are notoriously resistant to adult tendencies to say “do as I say, not as I do” recommendations, continue their experimentation and fail to see the deleterious effects drug use has on their lives. More than one teacher has been fired or arrested for illicit drug use or alcohol abuse, which further erodes the effectiveness of anti-drug use messaging.

There is also the question of whether drug abuse prevention is an issue that government can effectively deal with. As it stands now, in spite of the numerous agencies in law enforcement and public health involved in battling addiction, drug trafficking and prevention, there are still ongoing problems, which is not to say that all of these efforts are ineffective, merely that these efforts are much like dealing with violence. Government simply cannot solve all of society’s ills. Instead of an effective tool, random drug testing may be an empty band-aid approach that absolves individuals from personal responsibility. Rather than emphasizing the intrinsic motivation of effective life choices, random drug testing may instead divert the focus into extrinsic factors, such gaming the system to avoid being caught.

Field Experiences

As a no nonsense patrol deputy, a parent and a student of human behavior, one of the issues I’ve observed is the tendency to rely on experts tending to over think things. Sometimes simple and “old fashioned” really does work. Experts do have value, but oftentimes, the emphasis is on the latest theories and discarding what is described as old fashioned and outdated methods. Theories abound in the field of child rearing, disrupting parental authority and engagement that has contributed to the schizophrenic mess we see arriving in the criminal justice system.

Occasionally, there are innovative and insightful breakthroughs that return to time tested practices, such as the concept of teen court, utilizing peer review, personal accountability, consistent and timely consequences for failure and supportive acknowledgment of success. It also utilizes the positive aspect of peer pressure to counter the anti-social influences of hanging around “bad influences”.

In considering the value of random drug testing, the cost of administering such a program, the adversarial and intrusive nature of such testing and the lack of an intrinsic motivation to make better decisions about using illicit drugs renders such a program defective from the start. A far more effective approach would be utilizing the student population themselves to develop a strategy such as teen court, peer discussions about drug abuse, bullying and other pertinent issues unique to each school in coordination with school resource officers and other adult role models through the school.

In other words, develop a student based program that models and socially rewards personal positive choices, as well as personal accountability to themselves and each other for failures. Simple rules, straightforward and understandable consequences and personal accountability, as well as consistency have long been an effective means of establishing good citizenship in children. The school resource officer can be a very effective catalyst in discussions about poor choices and the immediate and long-term consequences of those choices. For those students unmotivated and unwilling to participate in such programs, their conduct determines the disciplinary measures to be taken.

By utilizing positive peer pressure and behavioral modeling as a preventative and initial rehabilitative measure, the criminal justice system can be reserved for those few who fall into active recidivist criminal and anti-social choices where they can be dealt with outside of the school setting thereby lessening the disruption and influence they wield on the overall school environment.

The side benefit to the peer group approach is that students learn through practice the value of governing themselves, rather than relying on external factors, such as getting caught through a random drug test. Instilling the internal skills to resist negative influences and excusing poor choices allows students to build better life skills that will benefit them when they begin their lives as adults. Unfortunately, too often people look for a silver bullet approach, rather than accepting the hard work and multi-faceted approach of helping students make better life choices.

For more information on this article:
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2006/03/blowing_smoke.html
http://monitoringthefuture.org/
http://johnjayresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/buttsortizjrnjan11.pdf

Do you think that random drug testing is an effective tool to prevent drug abuse in students? Do you see random drug testing being effectively funded in today’s current economic climate? Would more peer related programs such as teen drug court and drug prevention programs be a more effective approach as opposed to another government program? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

3 Responses to “Random Drug Testing Students-Boon or Boondoggle?”

  1. Random Drug Testing Students-Boon or Boondoggle? | Bright Blue Line says:

    […] via Random Drug Testing Students-Boon or Boondoggle?. […]

  2. Scott Silverii says:

    Great point Juli, but Wednesday I’ll encourage making it mandatory. I’ve read other posts on FB & Twitter about costs and confidentiality. I assure that cost of a cup is much less than rehab & coffins.

    Protect, deter & detect! Drug test students,
    Scott

  3. Debate Of The Week: Is The Random Drug Testing Of Students A Good Or Bad Idea? says:

    […] Here’s the schedule Monday = Juli Adcock looks at the issue from her field service experience and asks is random drug testing boon or boondoggle? http://www.thebadgeguys.com/random-drug-testing-students-boon-or-boondoggle/ […]