Researchers Find Drug Testing Doesn't Deter Student Use

Random drug testing of high school athletes does not reduce their level of self-reported drug use.

According to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, random drug testing of high school athletes does not reduce their level of self-reported drug use. In the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The first-of-its-kind study (dubbed Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification, or SATURN) was designed to assess the deterrent effects of drug and alcohol testing among high school athletes, reports OHSU. “Prior to this study, there was little research and no randomized trials to establish whether student-athlete drug and alcohol testing is an effective deterrent,” Dr. Linn Goldberg, the principal research investigator from OHSU’s School of Medicine, said in a press release. What Goldberg and her co-investigator Dr. Diane Elliot found was fairly surprising: “Although drug testing did not appear to reduce school sport participation as some had suggested it would, it did not reduce past 30-day drug [use] or a combination of drug and alcohol use,” Goldberg said, “and it only intermittently lowered past year [drug] use.” Yikes – that sorta puts a kink in drug czar John Walters’ claims that drug testing rocks, eh?

Indeed, it was less than a month ago that Walters’ office issued its own congratulatory release, indicating that random steroid testing in student athletes demonstrate the “immense prevention power of random student testing.” Out of 500 students, the ONDCP release notes, just one student athlete tested positive for steroid use. The result should “provide an impetus for other communities to consider implementing [testing] programs of their own,” Walters said. According to the ONDCP, more than 1,000 schools across the country now use “the preventative power of random student drug testing to help young people resist peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.”

Nonetheless, the OHSU study results suggest the “power” of random testing isn’t exactly as potent as Walters would have you believe. The study was conducted over two years at 11 high schools within 150 miles of Portland, Ore., with each school randomly selected to one of two groups: those that had implemented a drug testing policy, and those that had designed a policy but agreed to put implementation on hold until the end of the study. Students in the first group were subjected to random testing throughout the school year; both groups were required to complete confidential questionnaires about drug and alcohol use at the beginning and end of each school year. With two years of surveys in hand, researchers found no difference between the two groups of students in the month prior to random testing of the group one students. Moreover, the researchers discovered that athletes at schools with random testing felt less “athletically competent, perceived school authorities were less opposed to drug use, and believed less in the benefits of drug testing,” reads the press release.

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Drug War, John Walters, ONDCP, OHSU

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