Does Random Student Drug Testing Deter Teen Drug Use?

Does Random Student Drug Testing Deter Teen Drug Use?

Does Random Student Drug Testing Deter Teen Drug Use?

Does Random Student Drug Testing Deter Teen Drug Use?Random student drug testing (RSDT) is an approach that uses random, mandatory testing procedures to determine whether children enrolled in school use illegal drugs. This type of testing is legal in the U.S. under certain circumstances. Currently, there is no consensus on the usefulness of random drug testing in changing teenagers’ attitudes toward drugs or rate of drug use. Some studies support drug testing as an effective deterrent to drug use in teenage populations, while others point toward limited or no benefit from random testing.

Random Drug Testing Basics

Random student drug testing is also known as mandatory random student drug testing (MRSDT) or mandatory random drug testing (MRDT). In a mandatory testing program, students must submit to random urinalysis or other forms of testing designed to detect the presence of drugs in the body. According to rulings issued in the 1990s and the 2000s by the U.S. Supreme Court, a school or school district can initiate this type of testing to address patterns of drug use that significantly interfere with student welfare. However, instead of using drug detection in connection with law enforcement efforts, random student drug testing aims to discourage drug use by using positive tests to exclude students from participation in extracurricular activities such as sports or school-supported clubs.

Conflicting Evidence for Usefulness

In a study published in February 2013 in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, researchers from the Institute for Behavior and Health used interviews conducted with students from eight U.S. high schools to judge the effectiveness of random drug testing as a deterrent to drug use and a modifier of teens’ attitudes. The students at some of these schools were subject to random testing, while the students of other schools were not. After reviewing the survey results, the study’s authors found that marijuana use and other forms of illicit or illegal drug intake drop substantially in schools with random drug testing programs. Interestingly, they also found that teenagers enrolled in schools with drug testing programs tend to have a better attitude toward the prospect of random testing than teens enrolled in schools that don’t have these programs.

In another study, published in February 2012 in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Israel’s Haifa University examined the effectiveness of random drug testing in a group of 943 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19. In addition, they examined the effectiveness of “positive” school climates as a deterrent to drug use. A positive school climate typically has attributes that include a safe daily environment for students, an orientation toward civic and social responsibility, and an inclusive, shared approach to learning for all enrolled students. After reviewing their gathered data, the authors of this study concluded that random drug testing reduces substance use levels only in a limited set of circumstances. Specifically, they concluded that testing works for female students enrolled in schools with positive climates. No decrease in drug use was associated with random testing of teenage girls in other school climates, or with random testing of teenage boys in any school climate.


Random drug testing may have a limited impact on teen drug use because it only really has a deterrent effect on teenagers participating in extracurricular activities, the author of a critique published in April 2013 in the journal Addiction explains. Generally speaking, these teens are more involved in school than their peers, and also have less of a tendency to get involved in drug use. Since random testing focuses on the adolescents least likely to use drugs, it may produce an outward air of usefulness while actually failing to reach the majority of teenage drug users.

Random drug testing may also have limited usefulness because it focuses on peer pressure on the individual as a main way to change students’ attitudes toward drug use. This approach potentially exaggerates any given teen’s susceptibility to peer pressure that does not come from within his or her existing social environment. Many of these environments (especially those frequented by teenagers not involved in extracurricular activities) promote or condone drug use, instead of disapproving of drug use. In these situations, the “natural” peer pressure from one’s existing drug-using social network may simply be stronger than the “artificial” peer pressure introduced by random drug testing.

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