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POINT/COUNTER POINT: It's about common sense

Mandatory random testing of students in extracurricular activities will reduce substance abuse. That’s just “common sense,” isn’t it?

No, it isn’t.

The University of Michigan, data collected data on 94,000 students from 894 schools to see if mandatory random testing programs reduced substance abuse.

They didn’t. Students in schools that tested for substance abuse were virtually the same as students where they didn’t test. High school seniors at schools that tested students even scored one point higher for marijuana use than those that didn’t.

This study was the same as looking at 500 schools the size of Marion High School. Half of those “schools” had mandatory testing programs that didn’t reduce substance abuse.

If you’ve tried fixing something 250 times and it hasn’t worked, is it “common sense” to keep trying it?

Of course not. That meets Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

What about other studies? None show benefits large enough to justify subjecting all students in extracurricular activities to invasive random testing.

Parents’ rights to make decisions regarding their children are infringed upon when their “consent” is a requirement of their children’s participation in extracurricular activities. Parents who have ethical objections to such testing have no option to decline participation of their children.

Parents, not schools, are the ones who should be responsible for their children.

In America, people are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Suspicionless testing turns that upside down, undermines trust between students and staff, and results in more negative attitudes toward school.

Testing is not 100 percent accurate – false positives are caused by many medications, and innocent students are subjected to the humiliation of such results, even after being cleared by follow-up tests.

Random testing can push users toward harmful but legal substances recommended by “pro drug” websites to mask illegal substance abuse. Avoiding the test can end up being more dangerous than the substance they’re using.

Or they may turn to other dangerous substances not routinely tested, or to ones like alcohol that are more quickly cleared. Health risks aren’t eliminated – they’re just shuffled around to different substances.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against random testing in schools. So has the American Civil Liberties Union.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a book detailing numerous proven, research-based strategies for parents, educators, and communities to use in combating youth substance abuse. You won’t find random drug testing by schools anywhere in that publication.

Illegal substance abuse among our youth is a problem crying out for our collective attention. Our schools take this seriously, and are to be commended for their concern and most of the steps they’ve taken to address the problem.

But random testing of students in extracurricular activities doesn’t belong in the mix – particularly when schools already have the power to require substance abuse testing when they have reasonable suspicion of abuse.

Train school staff in spotting the signs of possible abuse – it’s successful in other professions like health care and social services. Test when there’s reason to suspect. Respect parents and youths by not assuming everyone needs to be tested.

Take the resources devoted to testing and apply them instead to enhance education and parent support through more evidence-based practices proven to reduce substance abuse.

Every day, schools use proven, research-based curriculum designed to produce positive outcomes. Every year, schools must produce evidence their educational programs are effective.

The same standards should be applied to the policy of random testing of students in extracurricular activities. If they are, the policy will disappear.

Even in the face of “common sense.”

— David Colburn

Last modified Sept. 7, 2011

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