California Bill Could Thwart Bush Drug Testing Agenda

Press Release April 26, 2004
Media Contact

Glenn Backes at 916-202-2538 or Nikos Leverenz at 916-444-3751

Sacramento–A bill to prohibit random drug testing of students will be heard by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday April 28 (at 9 AM in Senate Education Committee Room 4203). The legislation, if enacted, would effectively thwart a Bush White House priority. In his January State of the Union address, President Bush promised new funding to encourage the practice of urine testing kids, even those who show no signs of drug or alcohol misuse.

Proponents of the bill by Senator John Vasconcellos of San Jose and Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles maintain that random drug testing does not deter drug use, and that the bill is urgently needed to prevent California schools from diverting scarce financial and staff resources into a program that is at best unproven, and at worst jeopardizes schools’ financial future. They believe that the legislation is urgently needed in light of the Bush agenda, recent efforts by drug testing companies to develop schools as a market, and the budget squeeze on schools.

“We see a real danger in the White House push for drug testing,” said Glenn Backes, health policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “One drug testing program can suck up tens of thousands of dollars that would be better spent on teachers, text books, after-school programs, drug counselors or drug treatment,” Backes continued. “After-school programs are proven to reduce drug and alcohol use, while the opposite is true of drug testing. The only national study of schools using drug testing found that it had absolutely no effect on student drug use.”

The California State PTA supports a ban on random drug testing, and believes strongly that any testing should require parental consent. Kathryn Moffat of the PTA will testify Wednesday. In her prepared written statement, which she will deliver today Ms. Moffat wrote, “we [the PTA] believe that the practice of random drug testing does not work…;. If there are resources available to be applied to the problem of youth drug abuse, they should be used for education, support, and after-school programs the address the problem effectively and remain within the appropriate tone and realm of school activity.”

A study published last year in the Journal of School Health, based on data collected between 1998 and 2001 from 76,000 students nationwide in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades found that drug testing did not have an impact on illicit drug use among students. The rate of illicit drug use in schools without drug testing was 19%, and in the schools with drug testing the rate was 21%– 2% higher. Dr. Lloyd D. Johnston, author of the study and the director of the bi-annual federal survey of drug trends among students commented to the New York Times that, “[the study] suggests that there really isn’t an impact from drug testing as practiced…I don’t think it brings about any constructive changes in their attitudes about drugs or their beliefs in the dangers associated with using them.”

Under the Vasconcellos-Goldberg bill schools can only conduct drug tests if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a student is intoxicated or using drugs, and only if parents provide consent to drug test ahead of time. “We wanted to strike a balance,” said Backes, “Something cost-effective that could help protect the safety of schools while respecting the privacy rights of California students and families.”

Asserting the urgency of the bill, Senator John Vasconcellos said “Random drug testing fails to deter drug use among students according to other states’ experience and research. It deters our youth from participating in extracurricular activities and alienates them from our society. It also leads to expensive litigation for which taxpayers wind up footing the bill. Our limited resources are better spent on better drug education and more positive reinforcements.”

Several schools around the nation are involved in litigation brought by parents who did not want their kids excluded from extra-curricular activities on the grounds that the parents would not consent to drug testing.


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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