In recent years, many high schools have implemented zero-tolerance drug policies meant to discourage students from abusing illegal substances. The main component of this initiative has been the use of random drug tests. About 20 percent of high schools in the United States screen students for drug use. From their start, these programs have been controversial, as some teens and their parents see testing as a violation of privacy. A new study presents a different argument against school drug testing, suggesting that they simply don't deter behavior.
The report, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, followed a group of 361 students, one-third of whom attended a high school with a drug testing policy. After one year the researchers found that teens from either type of school were equally likely to experiment with marijuana or alcohol.
"Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it's not working," said Daniel Romer, the study's lead author in a press release. "So as a prevention effort, school drug testing is kind of wrong-headed."
So can schools do anything to curb drug and alcohol abuse among their students? According to the researchers, fostering a positive and nurturing educational environment may be the best way to keep drugs out. The students in the survey who said that their schools had clear rules and their teachers treated them with respect, were 20 percent less likely to experiment with marijuana. When it came to alcohol, however, there didn't seem to be much of a difference. Romer attributed that to widespread marketing campaigns that almost exclusively show alcohol use in a positive light.