The rise in drug testing is a reaction to the still-raging opioid epidemic and liberalized marijuana laws spreading across the country, according to health experts and educators. “The biggest fear is that legalization will lead to more teen use,” said Dr. Paul Glaser, a child psychiatry professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
More schools are adopting drug testing even as research remains mixed on how effective it is at reducing teen drug use. Supporters say it gives kids a reason to say no to drugs and may identify students who need help with drug problems. But opponents argue it invades student privacy and diverts money from educational priorities like books.
Chris Wigington, superintendent of the Bushland district in Texas, said the school board asked him to look into the idea of drug testing after he arrived less than two years ago. In his previous school systems, he said, testing helped kids resist peer pressure to take drugs.
The programs — allowed under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — are similar in Bushland and Fort Scott, with random testing of a relatively small portion of the student body several times a year. Under Fort Scott’s policy, 10 middle school students and 20 high school students are randomly tested each month with a urine screening for 10 drugs.
A 2015 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics said there’s a lack of convincing scientific data demonstrating that testing works. A previous study, directed by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in 2010, examined seven school districts and compared substance use reported in high schools that tested and those that didn’t. It found that 16% of students subject to drug testing reported using drugs compared with 22% of students in schools that didn’t test. Testing didn’t change students’ reported intentions to use drugs in the future.