Alcohol and Drug Testing in Schools

There are over 55 million elementary and secondary public and private school students, and over 20 million undergraduate students in the United States in 2016. A 2015 survey regarding the prevalence of illicit substance use of people aged 12 and over indicated that 27.1 million have used illicit substance in the past 30 days, which is a ratio of 1 in 10 Americans.

Students spend a greater part of their day in school. In connection, it is important that the school not only provide exemplary standards in educating young minds but also sets and provides an environment against which young students test their behavior. Pre-adolescents and adolescents tend to look up to their teachers and other school personnel as significant role models. It has been observed that young students who sense that their teachers, coaches and counselors care for them are less likely to try illicit drugs and alcohol. Mentor-student relationship is a vital and formative factor for young students. Students who do not have this kind of school relationship are less likely to recognize the ills that substance use and abuse could bring.

The use and abuse of mind-altering drugs negatively impacts school performance.  Anyone under the influence of illicit substances is not prepared to learn and is definitely at risk of impairing their memory and cognitive ability. Illicit substance abuse has been associated not only with lack of self-discipline and motivation, and absenteeism but also linked to violent, antisocial behavior, and other irresponsible and dangerous behaviors. Increased vehicular accidents and death have been associated also with the use of drugs and alcohol.

Schools, in alliance with health care professionals and community partners are in a position to recognize and identify students who are using illicit drugs. This is possible through the evaluation of school performance, behavioral symptoms, and physical signs of use and abuse. To help in the evaluation, identification and prevention of drug and alcohol use and abuse in the school system, drug testing in conjunction with programs aimed to reinforce positive school climate, may be recommended.

How and Where Do Students Get Drugs?

A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse indicated that 9 out of 10 high school students say some of their classmates drink, smoke, or take drugs during school day; and that about 17% or 1 out 5 of their classmates drink, smoke or take illegal substances during school day.

About 52% of high school students across the United States say that there are actual places on school grounds or near the school grounds where students can hang out to smoke, drink or get high on drugs. About 36% of high school students say it is easy enough to take illicit substances when in school without being caught.

The same study indicated that nearly half of high school students know of at least one schoolmate who sells drugs in school. The top three illicit substances sold and bought in school are marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine and ecstasy. Other illegal substances include alcohol, LSD, methamphetamine, heroine and cigarettes. Over the years, the percentage of public and private high schools that are drug infected increased, where drug infected means a school where students sell, use or keep drugs. Drug-infected schools seem to be a “haven” for students who abuse drugs and alcohol.

Majority of the American adult population is now regularly being prescribed of medication for various physical and mental health conditions. There are a lot of teens who can source and learn to explore prescription drugs simply by walking into their parents’ bathroom. The question now is: Are prescription drugs coming from some high school students’ home? Yes, this is a likely reality for after all a whole lot of parents are too tired or too lazy to look into the matter of their missing prescription drugs. Consider too that there are pill-popping mommies and daddies. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are opiates (Codeine, Vicodin, Oxycontin), CNS depressants (Xanax, Valium, Amytal), and stimulants (Ritalin, Addeall, Dexedrine).

Other non-prescription and prescription medications available in most homes are sleep aids such as Ambien, cough medications, and alcohol. Ambien “high” comes from fighting the sleepy feeling as visual hallucinations could happen. Cough medications that contain DXM behave similar to morphine, and possibly cause brain hemorrhage, respiratory depression, vomiting, and nausea that can prompt a trip to the emergency room. Most homes have alcoholic drinks that are very accessible to adolescent and pre-adolescent children.

Importance of Drug Testing in School

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the public school system a broader authority to test students for illicit drug. The ruling legalizes random drug testing for both middle and high school students who are active participants in competitive extracurricular activities other than sports.

Some schools follow standards established in the workplace in conducting random drug testing and or reasonable suspicion/cause drug testing. Students are then selected irrespective of their history of drug use. This may include students mandated to undergo drug testing as a requirement of participating in an extracurricular activity. In reasonable suspicion/cause drug testing, the school has the right to ask a student for a urine sample if the school has evidence or suspects that the particular student is using drugs. What good is drug testing in schools?

  • Some schools adopt random drug testing for students to reduce if not totally eliminate drug misuse and illicit substance use.
  • Random drug testing could well be a deterrent and provide students the motivation to challenge peer pressure to take drugs or alcohol.
  • Drug testing can help identify students who are using drugs, paving the way to early intervention. This can also identify students who have drug or alcohol problems and need treatment.

Drug testing is not a means to punish students who are into drugs. It is rather a preventive measure and a step to help student users be drug-free. If a student tests positive but not yet addicted, counseling may be recommended. For a student with addiction problem, referral to an efficient drug treatment and rehabilitation program may be recommended.

Drug Abuse Statistics for Students

  • Monitoring the Future (MTF) 2016 survey indicated that drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th American graders have declined. Statistics show that 5.4% of 8th grade students, 9.8% of 10th grade students, and 14.3% of 12th grade students have used illicit drugs in the past year.
  • Use of marijuana declined among 8th and 10th grade students, but remains unchanged for 12th grade students. About 38.3% of 12th graders in U.S. states with medical marijuana law used marijuana in the past year, compared to only 33.3% in non-medical marijuana U.S. states.
  • Past year use of alcohol declined among 8th graders at 17.6%, 10th graders at 38.3%, and 12th graders at 55.6%. Daily alcohol use declined among 12th
  • Lifetime use of any illicit drugs for all three levels is at 32.6% in 2016. In 2006, it was 34%.
  • Mandatory drug testing did not affect their connection to school or reduce student’s participation in extracurricular activities.

Types of Drug Test Used in Schools

Several testing methods that use hair, urine, sweat and saliva as specimens are currently available from reputable providers such as Confirm BioSciences. These drug tests vary in drugs detected, reliability, detection period, and cost. School administrators need to determine their needs regarding student drug testing and choose the test or tests that best match their requirements. School drug tests should include screening for marijuana, opioids, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP) and amphetamines.

  • Urine Drug Test – This test measure urine to detect the presence of particular prescription medications and illegal drugs. This test is quick, painless and very affordable. Urine drug testing is intrusive but it can be done at home. However, laboratory verification is required for accurate results. Some test panels can detect fentanyl, K2 spice, nicotine and alcohol.
  • Saliva Drug Testing – This particular drug test is very common and is relatively non-intrusive. Though this test it is easy to administer, laboratory processing is required for accuracy. A saliva drug test is most reliable for the detection of opiates and methamphetamine.
  • Hair Follicle Drug TestFor a school drug test kit, a hair drug test is quite expensive. It is a non-intrusive method of testing for illicit substances, and has a substance detection period of 90 days. If a person abstains from taking drugs to pass a hair test, the result will be unaffected. Contrary to popular belief, a single hair strand is not enough for drug testing.

School Specific Studies Regarding Random Drug Testing

Studies regarding the utility of random drug testing in schools have varied results. However, researchers do agree that student drug testing is not a stand-alone answer to reducing and eliminating substance use and abuse in students.

  • A 2013 research funded by the National Institute of Drug Administration found lower marijuana use due to drug testing in school.
  • Another published 2013 study indicated that positive school climate is linked to reduced initiation to marijuana and cigarette smoking; that school drug testing is not connected to the initiation or increase of illicit substance use. However, the authors concluded that a positive school climate is a better deterrent for drug use while drug testing is not an inefficient drug prevention policy.
  • A 2012 study concluded that mandatory random student drug testing resulted in less substance use compared to students in high school without random drug testing.
  • Another study published in 2012 concluded that student drug testing is an effective deterrent for substance use for females in schools with positive climates. The authors concluded that a positive school climate should be considered before considering student drug testing as a means to reduce substance abuse.

Creating a positive school climate and implementing mandatory random student drug testing are effective deterrent in reducing substance abuse in schools.  Confirm BioSciences offers a wide range of products that are ideal for school drug testing.

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