Largest Ever Federally-Funded Study of Student Drug Testing Shows It Does Not Deter Drug Use Among Teens

Press Release May 18, 2003
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 212-613-8026 or Shayna Samuels at 212-613-8037

Flying in the face of last year’s Supreme Court decision allowing drug testing of students who participate in extra-curricular activities, the largest nationwide study of student drug testing recently found no difference in drug use rates between students of schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not. The study, published recently in the Journal of School Health, looked at 76,000 students across the country.

“In an era when cuts in school budgets throughout the country are leading to teacher layoffs, ineffective drug testing programs are a poor use of valuable education dollars,” said Alexandra Cox, Project Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance.

An average school drug testing program costs $20-$60 per student, or roughly $30,000 a year — approximately the same as a teacher’s annual salary.

Critics of suspicionless student drug testing say the process is:

The study, entitled “Relationship between student illicit drug use and school drug-testing policies,” was published in the respected Journal of School Health and was conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. The study was funded in part by the National Institute for Drug Abuse, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health.

The study points to research that demonstrates that the strongest predictor of student drug use is students’ attitudes toward drug use and perceptions of peer use. The researchers recommend that “to prevent harmful student behaviors such as drug use, school policies that address these key values, attitudes, and perceptions may prove more important in drug prevention than drug testing.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, and the American Public Health Association reached the same conclusions in their friend-of-the- court brief in the case of Pottawatomie v. Earls. They stated: “Our experience — and a broad range of relevant research — convinces us that a policy of [suspicionless drug testing of high school students] cannot work in the way it is hoped and, for many adolescents, will interfere with more sound prevention and treatment processes.” Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against this opinion, finding drug testing high school students who participate in extracurricular activities constitutional.

“We hope local school districts will hear the results of this study loud and clear and reserve their precious resources for books, and teachers and proven drug prevention strategies that will benefit students,” said Judy Appel, Deputy Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

In response, the Drug Policy Alliance, along with parents, teachers and coaches around the country, are working to defeat drug testing programs in their schools. Drug Policy Alliance has also launched a campaign called “Drug Testing Fails Our Youth.”

Fact sheets and other information on school drug testing, as well as organizing tips and examples of local responses to the Earls decision, can be found at

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

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