Drug abuse is a public health concern for people of all ages, but especially in young people, who are even more vulnerable to the risks associated with illegal substances. Studies have shown that an estimated 25% of US high school students have tried cannabis, and 23% have tried another illicit substance.
The question of whether we should be drug testing students causes a lot of controversy among health and social workers across the world. One the one hand, the safety of young people should be treated with the highest importance, however there are some concerns that this method isn’t addressing the real problem and could make the problem worse. So what are the pros and cons of drug testing students in schools?
The first advantage to using drug testing methods in schools is that it allows us to identify students who are in need of help. This then provides schools with an opportunity to intervene and offer treatment or counseling as necessary. Health experts always recommend that the focus of the method should be of helping students deal with the root cause of the issue rather than simply punishing them.
Studies have also shown that random drug testing can act as a strong deterrent to students, and can reduce the numbers using drugs in the first place. And although there is some conflicting evidence as to the effectiveness of drug testing, the majority of studies have shown it to be a highly effective method and school that use it do see much fewer problems related to substance abuse.
The main argument used against drug testing in schools is that, it isn’t where our focus should be. Should the attention be placed providing deterrents for students? Or should we be encouraging other behaviour instead? Some studies have shown that engaging students with extracurricular activities instead could be a much more effective method for preventing drug abuse. It’s also argued that a large proportion of drug use is connected to other social or mental health issues, and by punishing students you’re not dealing with the underlying problem, which can cause them to feel alienated.
Although the cost of testing shouldn’t be seen as the number one concern, it needs to be considered. Is the cost of testing worth the results seen? Or could the money be better spent on other things? It’s estimated that for every 125 tests given in schools, there’s only one positive result. Some experts argue that these funds could be better used elsewhere, and that the money spent could be used to fund drug prevention programs as an alternative.