Drug Testing in Schools: What Parents Should Know

As drug use in teens continues to rise, more schools are choosing to randomly drug test students. Many parents are divided about this issue—some welcome it as another tool to steer kids away from drugs. Others view it as intrusive, a process that should be left to parents, not educators. But according to a 2010 survey, nearly half of all 12th graders claimed to have tried an illicit drug at some point, and educators view drug tests as an opportunity to intervene for the greater good.

The main concept of school drug testing is to act as a deterrent—another valid reason for teens to resist peer pressure and not use drugs. It can also give teachers and parents some intel on a student who is using drugs and intervene appropriately.

Most schools who implement random drug testing use urine or saliva drug tests. These types of tests are the least intrusive and easy to use. Drug use can be identified in both tests for 3-5 days, depending on the type of drug.

Drug tests do not recognize alcohol use, which will only show up in a breath or blood test. This is a bit discouraging, since alcohol is by far the most-used drug among teens. But experts say most substance abusers use more than one drug, so it is entirely possible that a teen who tests positive for a narcotic may very well be drinking as well.

Some parents (or students) may question the constitutionality of drug testing in schools, but in many cases it is perfectly legal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), schools can administer random drug tests to any students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. Before, only athletes could be tested. Now, even glee club members could be subjected to tests, providing they are competing. Despite recent court rulings, students and their lawyers continue to argue privacy issues, and the debate will no doubt linger on.

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