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Student Drug Use

A yearly study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) showed that just 12% of parents are concerned with drug use in their teens, while 27% of teens report it as a major concern in their lives. Approximately 50% of teens say they have been at parties elsewhere or even within their own home in which alcohol and drugs were available. In their 2006 study, 62% of high school children stated that drugs are kept, used or sold within their school. The Pride Survey National Summary of 2006 also showed that the number of teens that drive while on illegal substances is higher than the number driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Marijuana is a very prevalent drug used among teenagers and is often thought to be mild and without serious effects. The 2005 youth Risk Behavior Study found that close to half of all high students in the United States had used marijuana prior to graduation. New research is showing a link to the development of psychiatric disturbances and schizophrenia in those that began their use younger than the age of 18. Those than began smoking marijuana before age 12 are twice as likely to manifest a mental illness as those that did not use. Marijuana is just one of many substances that can be detected in a teens drug test. This can aid in deterring use as well as in detecting and stopping use that has started among young teens before it becomes a problem.

A child’s brain continues to develop until the age of 21, and drug use at a young age has been found to cause problems in brain development and alter its neurological pathways in negative ways. Even minimal use can cause permanent changes within a brain that has not yet fully developed, which affects future functioning. Additionally, anywhere from 8% to as much as 32% of those that use will go on to have serious drug addiction problems in the future that include altered judgment and continual drug seeking behavior. It is important to find appropriate ways to deter drug use among our children to prevent lifelong dependency issues and to ensure a happier, healthier and more fulfilled future.

Student Drug Testing

There are many schools that now have programs for student drug testing because of the prevalence of drug use among teenagers. This is fast becoming a proven deterrent for drug use among school-aged children. The use of a high school drug test can aid in stopping many from using various substances due to the fear of being caught by school officials and the subsequent parental notification. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has performed studies that show a decrease in student drug use when testing is used. Drug testing teens can also cut down on the possibility of drug related accidents and deaths among our nation’s young people.

A study in Indiana surveyed public schools regarding student drug use and student drug testing. Nearly all the schools stated that student behavior had improved since testing was implemented, and 58% had already seen verifiable decreases in drug use among students. A 40% decrease in student drug test positives was seen overall. Critics stated that high school drug testing would have a negative classroom impact and would erode the student body morale. However, 100% of the schools surveyed stated they’ve seen no negative consequences and report either the same or better morale among students. Most students and teachers reported that drug testing improved the learning environment and helped end a culture of drugs among students.

Most school administrators have begun student drug test programs with great success. For example, the Abbey School of Faversham, Kent in the UK implemented just such a program and tracked the results for three years. Teen drug testing proved to be a positive program within the school that received school wide support with administrators as well as students. Student drug use was at a reported 40% before beginning student drug testing. Three years later, only one student tested positive for an illegal substance. Academic scores rose as well. The Hunterdon Central Regional High School of Flemington, New Jersey found that drug use declined in 20 out of 28 survey categories after implementation of their drug-testing program. However, drug use and drug reporting increased again upon temporary suspension of student testing in the year 2000.

Starting a Student Testing Program

Early prevention, intervention and treatment can help protect teenagers during a vulnerable age. Successful student drug testing is achieved with regular tests balanced with student confidentiality and compassion as well as effective programs for those found with positive drug tests. It is best to also include reality-based drug education for all students from middle school and above. Effective drug programs for those found to be using drugs should include behavioral health assessment, substance education, chemical awareness groups, and treatment for chemical dependency for those that need it. High parental involvement is highly suggested in all steps and will enhance the success rates of your program.

Assessment should include a look at mental health as children with additional problems such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are more prone to drug abuse and need these other conditions addressed for successful intervention and treatment. Other issues that often accompany teen drug use can include family problems, physical illness, peer conflict and social isolation, so provisions for handling these situations should also be part of the program.

Studies now show that students referred to student drug assistance programs such as these tend to show improvements in attendance and academic performance and cause fewer disciplinary problems afterwards. The right drug policy in place will deter students from using and increase accountability for their actions. Drug use spreads quickly through peer groups, and testing offers a convenient way to say no. Respectful and compassionate testing programs create more involvement in school related activities, and most students report feeling safer at school once a drug program was started.

Students within schools with drug testing also motivate and encourage other students to commit to a drug free environment. Often schools give additional incentives to students who regularly pass such tests, such as parking permits, discount restaurant and shopping cards, or planned events for those that are drug free. This provides extra motivation for the students facing a teen’s drug test along with deterrence. You should contact other local school systems that have already started drug test for their advice and input into how best to set up your own school program.

Begin with a thorough assessment of the drug problems concerning your district by collecting data from students, health agencies, school administrators, teachers and the board of education. Community members and parents should also be involved in process, and you’ll need to enlist their support in school drug policy creation. Next you should consult legal sources and develop a clear, well-developed policy covering all avenues. This includes how and when students are tested, collection and actual testing, consequence and referral policies, parental consent, refusals, and how to handle disputes of testing results.

You will most likely need to include a parental opt-out policy, as students cannot usually be tested with parental consent. However, schools can usually still disallow students from participating in sports and extra-curricular activities without testing performed. Be sure to discuss these issues when getting legal counsel prior to setting up your school drug test program.

School drug policies should include a mission statement of what is to be achieved, such as increased student health and safety. It will also need to include a section on student rights, the school’s responsibility to students, and information protection and confidentiality. Be sure to clearly outline how the program will originally be implemented. Once you’ve started a school testing program, you’ll need to accurately track results and evaluate its effectiveness. You’ll then be able to make adjustments and changes in the program when and where they are needed.

Effectively Managing Cost

Many schools have not looked into student drug tests because they feel it is too costly. However, 91% of schools in one study were able to test with $30 or less per student and 2/3 of those kept costs at less than $20 per student. Often the costs incurred can be handled largely through government grants. The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools has a national program for drug and alcohol prevention that gave out $2 million to schools in 2003 alone. There are many other federal, state and local agencies that also give out grants to schools for drug prevention that can provide additional assistance.

Many communities use asset forfeiture funds that are often designated for drug prevention programs. Community foundations and non-profit organizations also give out grants for such programs as well. Some schools have linked up with city or state agencies that already have contracts with drug testing companies and can take advantage of discounted rates. Using existing contracts is especially beneficial for small school districts. Other avenues of funding include donations from local business and small increases in student activity fees. Schools that have started student testing have found funding to be much less of an issue than originally thought and often find outside funding for the entire program.

The benefits may also help outweigh costs in other ways. It has been found to be a deterrent, decreases absenteeism, and improves school participation and academic performance, all of which has a positive impact on the school system financially as well as otherwise. Early intervention and treatment with thorough, compassionate programs can also prevent lifelong substance abuse issues and create long-term healthy living benefits. Student testing programs are an exciting possibility in reducing the number of our young people affected by drug use and abuse that often follows them long into their adult lives.