Pharos-Tribune

January 29, 2014

Drug-testing dilemma

Environment bigger deterrent on drug use than drug testing, study says

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune
Pharos-Tribune

---- — Drug tests in school do little to deter marijuana use among teenagers, according to a recent study. The school’s climate, not punishment, plays a bigger role in prevention.

But a Francesville high school found that wasn’t necessarily the case.

The study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs looks at the effectiveness of drug testing in students. Drug testing was approved at West Central High School in September for sixth through 12th graders. The testing is mandatory for students who are in athletics, driver education, extracurricular activities, curriculum-related activities or students who drive to school.

The drug testing affects about 90 percent of the student body, Chuck Evans, West Central High School athletic director, said.

The test is given to six to eight kids every two weeks. Some 54 students have been tested at West Central so far this school year.

The drug testing has been largely accepted by students and parents. No one has tested positive since the drug testing began, Evans said.

Drug testing is implemented in 20 percent of private and public schools in the United State, the study said. Some drug tests, like at West Central High School, are required of students participating in sports or extracurricular activities and others are for students suspected to be using drugs.

Although the study finds drug tests alone don’t deter the use of drugs, the fact that the test at West Central is randomized does seem to help, Evans said.

“The unknown factor with the randomized testing is a deterrent,” Evans said. “I believe it has had an effect on drug use.”

The randomized drug testing also helps students who might be under peer pressure, Evans said.

“It gives students under peer pressure the ability to tell others they don’t want to participate because of the drug test,” Evans said.

Evans thought it was important to point out drug testing isn’t just for athletics, but for the entire student body.

“It’s not that we’re trying to ‘get you,’” Evans said of students who are drug tested. “We’re trying to help.”

The study also said that teaching students to “say no” doesn’t work, but other approaches that provide social life-skill training have positive effects.

Robb Kelly, an addiction expert with Robb Kelly Group, said drug testing wouldn’t deter some drug use with drug trends changing. For example, one newer trend includes students snorting crushed Smarties candy, Kelly said.

Snorting the powder results in a sugar high that can last for 10 minutes. Most who participate in the drug trend are mostly copying cocaine use, Kelly said.

Because certain drugs wouldn’t show up in the drug test, additional measures could decrease drug use, Kelly said. Severe punishment and education about the results of drug use could help.

There will be various punishments depending on the situation and offense at West Central High School. Some of the punishments include going to counseling.

Typically drug tests don’t deter drug use because typical chemical users assume they will not be caught, Kathy Coffing, addictions counselor at Four County Counseling Center, said.

Coffing, a state-licensed addictions counselor, said there are exceptions, but typically the mindset of the drug user is that the punishment couldn’t possibly reach them.

“That doesn’t mean we should stop drug screening, because drug screening helps identify those who need help,” Coffing said.

A positive relationship between teachers, students and parents can help combat the issue, Coffing said

The study points out creating a positive school environment and implementing drug testing are not mutually exclusive. The addition of drug testing in schools that have a good climate led to the reduction of drug use, the study read.

Four County is making some headway by getting into schools and addressing other issues, since drug users have underlying issues that might reduce drug use if they’re dealt with.

“Implementing counselors and drug testing in schools help combat those issues,” Coffing said.