Random Student Drug Testing Issues
Dr. Robert DuPont, the nation’s first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states the issue about
problematic substance use very clearly. He states that drug use almost always begins in the teenage years. In the
human lifecycle, there is a relatively small window when almost all initiation of use of alcohol, cigarettes, and other
drugs occurs. The peak age of initiation is around 15 or 16 although many of those later seen in treatment initiated
use at 12 or 13. Dr. DuPont believes from the perspective of research that it is the earliest initiators who have the
most problems, who are most likely to go on to problematic heavier use. Later initiators, although not everyone, are
much more likely to stop their use. Users don’t always become problems; research shows that the one who initiates
use at 13 is much more likely to be problematic in their behavior than the one who starts at 20.
Dr. DuPont states that about half of all American teenagers have tried an illegal drug by their senior year, with about
25% continuing with ongoing use. That means a lot of kids are not using alcohol and other drugs. The percentage of
those who do use, however, is significant.
About 80% of all students are involved in extracurricular activities including student drivers who drive to school and
park. These students would make up the testing pool although many individuals would like to see every student
included in the test. The selected population of who is tested has to do with the Supreme Court decision rendered in
July 2002 allowing testing for extracurricular students. However, any school looking at random drug testing must
base that decision on need regardless of who is tested.
The simple observation from a public health point of view is that a decision to use needs to be delayed. The public
health goal, therefore, is to try to reduce initiation in the teenage years. Because everybody in America in their
teenage years is in school, the adults responsible for young people need to have an active program of discouraging
initiation of use in the teenage years. “The culture of drug use is dishonesty. Kids just don’t honestly tell us what
they are doing; they tremendously underreport their use.”, states Dr. DuPont. One of the reasons that he has
supported student drug testing for the past 20 years is that the cloak of dishonesty needs to be pulled back so that
people who have responsibility for kids know what is going on.
Policy and procedures with a random drug-testing program are different than with for-cause testing. The standards
with for-cause testing often involve expulsion because of policy violations. Random drug testing involves a
professional assessment for a positive drug test with limitations on participation in the extracurricular activity. The
professional assessment may recommend education, or treatment and more testing afterward. The intent is to get
the student to stop using the substances.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy states that random drug testing is just one tool in addressing
student drug use, and that the decision of whether or not drug testing is right for the community must rest at the local
Random drug testing, logically, could be considered when other pieces of prevention, early intervention, and support
are already in place, but not until then. The National Student Assistance Association’s position statement includes, “If
schools choose to use random drug testing, we believe it is essential that a comprehensive SAP be in place.”
There are a number of sites that offer accurate information on random student drug testing. The White House Office
of National Drug Control Policy (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov) offers two publications about random student
drug testing. Student Assistance Programs are referenced in both “What You Need to Know About Random Student
Drug Testing and Starting a Student Drug Testing Program.
Additionally, http://www.preventionnotpunishment.org/ is a website that also provides accurate information about
random student drug testing.