Drug Testing in Schools
“[W]e find that testing students
who participate in extracurricular
activities is a reasonably
effective means of addressing
the School District’s legitimate
concerns in preventing, deterring,
and detecting drug use.”
Justice Clarence Thomas
U.S. Supreme Court
JUNE 27, 2002
Board of Education of Independent School
District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls
In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of
public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4, the
Court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high
school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities.
The ruling greatly exxpands the scope of school drug testing, which
previously had been allowed only for student athletes.
There are those, of course, who will represent
the Court’s decision as a blow against privacy
and a victory for “Big Brother.” These concerns
are largely unfounded, however, and to
focus on them is to ignore the enormous
potential benefits of drug testing. Already,
testing has been shown to be extremely effective
at reducing drug use in schools and businesses
all over the country. As a deterrent, few
methods work better or deliver clearer results.
Drug teesting of airline pilots and school bus
drivers, for example, has made our skies and
roads safer for travel.
Parents, educators—indeed, anyone concerned about the welfare of
our young people—should welcome the High Court’s action. It’s a
big step in the right direction, for it gi
and every town a powerful new tool for controlling one of the worst
threats facing kids today.
The ruling could not have come at a better time. Monitoring the
Future, a national survey that tracks drug use among America’s
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S i
John P. Walters
youth, reports that in 2001 more than half of all students had used
illicit drugs by the time they finished high school.Moreover, the
2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse revealed that of the
4.5 million people age 12 and older who need drug treatment, 23
percent are teenagers.
This failure to protect our children from drug use and addiction is
unacceptable.We cannot responsibly withhold tools as effective ass
drug testing from communities that believe such measures are
appropriate and will save young lives.
Research shows that people who make it through their teenage years
without using drugs are much less likely to start using them when
they are older. So if testing can help keep kids off drugs and alcohol,
if it can help free young minds for learning and allow growing bodies
to escape the devastating cycle of dependence or addiction, it
will be a valuable and important new tool.
Experience has taught us that pe
best how to deal with drug problems in their communities. But to
combat this insidious threat, they need good information and the
best resources available. The Supreme Court’s ruling will help
schools meet these needs. This is good news for students, parents,
and teachers. And it is good news for America.
Office of National Drug Control Policy
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S ii
1 D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S
Should Schools Test Children For Illegal Drugs?
It is an important question, and ultimately one best left to parents,
teachers, and school administrators. There is no single right
or wrong answer, no “one size fits all” solution. A decision in June
2002 by the U.S. Supreme Court expands the authority of public
schools to test students for drugs. Still, it is up to individual communities
and schools to decide if drugs are a significant threat,
and if testing is an appropriate response.
The question of whether to test students for drugs or alcohol
should never be taken lightly. It involves myriad complex issues
that must be fully understood and carefully weighed before testing
begins. The Of
together What You Need
To Know About Drug
Testing in Schools to shed
light and offer perspective
on this multifaceted
and sometimes controversial
topic. Our aim is
to provide anyone who is
considering a drug-testing program in his or her community with
a broad understanding of the issue and solid, up-to-date information
on which to base a decision.
Included in this booklet are answers to questions that students,
parents, school officials, and other concerned individuals might
have about the process. It explains, generally, what drug testing is
all about, who pays for it, who does the testing, what it tells you
about an individual’s drug use, and, equally important, what it
does not tell you. The booklet describes what services should be in
place for communities to deal effectively with students who test
positive for drugs, and it also offers case histories (pages 3 and 12)
showing how several schools used testing to address their drug
problems. Their experiences may help others determine whether
testing is right for their communities.
It is up to communities and schools to
decide if drugs are a significant threat,
and if testing is an appropriate response.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 2
What Did the Court Rule?
In the case of
District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County et al. v. Earls et al., the U.S.
Supreme Court upheld a drug-testing program for students involved
in competitive extracurricular activities. Although the ruling allows
schools to test greater numbers of students for drugs, it is not a blanket
endorsement of drug testing for all students. Before implementing
a drug-testing program, schools should engage legal counsel
familiar with the law regarding student drug testing.
Why Drug-Test Students?
Thanks to advances in medical technology, researchers are now
able to capture pictures of the human brain under the influence
of drugs. As these images clearly show, the pleasurable sensations
produced by some drugs are due to actual physical changes in the
brain. Many of these changes are long-lasting, and some are irreversible.
Scientists have recently discovered that the brain is not
fully developed in early childhood, as was once believed, but is in
fact still growing even in adolescence.
Introducing chemical changes in the
brain through the use of illegal drugs
can therefore have far more serious
adverse effects on adolescents than on
Even so-called soft drugs can take a heavy toll. Marijuana’s
effects, for example, are not confined to the “high”; the drug can
also cause serious problems with memory and learning, as well as
difficulty in thinking and problem solving. Use of methamphetamine
or Ecstasy (MDMA) may cause long-lasting damage to brain
areas that are critical for thought and memory. In animal studies,
researchers found that four days of exposure to Ecstasy caused
damage that persisted for as long as six or seven years. Kids on
drugs cannot perform as well in school as their drug-free peers of
equal ability. So if testing reduces students’ use of illicit drugs, it
will remove a significant barrier to academic achievement.
Drug Testing: An Overview
If testing can reduce students’
use of illicit drugs, it will
remove a significant barrier
to academic achievement.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 3
A Reward for Staying Clean
Autauga County School System
In rural Autauga County, Alabama, students have a special incentive to
stay off drugs. As part of a voluntary drug-testing program, participating students
who test negative for drugs in random screenings receive discounts
and other perks from scores of area businesses.
Community leaders and school officials, prompted by a growing concern
about the use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes among students,
launched the program in 2000 with the help of a local drug-free coalition
called Peers Are Staying Straight (PASS). “Our community was awakening to
the fact that we needed to do something,” says PASS Executive Director
The Independent Decision program began with just the 7th grade but
will expand each year to include all grade levels. In the 2001–2002 school
year, more than half of all 7th and 8th graders at public and private schools
To enter the program, kids take a urine test for nicotine, cocaine,
amphetamines, opiates, PCP, and marijuana. Those who test negative get a
picture ID that entitles them to special deals at more than 55 participating
restaurants and stores. Students keep the ID as long as they test negative
in twice-yearly random drug tests.
Those who test positive (there have been only three) must relinquish
their cards and any special privileges. The school counselor notifies the parents
and, if appropriate, offers advice about where to find help. At that
point, the matter is strictly in the parents’ hands. If the child tests negative
in a subsequent random test, his or her card is returned. “Our whole purpose,”
says Ellis, “is to reward kids who stay clean and help them see the
benefits of a drug-free lifestyle.”
Surveys taken by PRIDE (the National Parents’ Resource Institute for
Drug Education) before the program began and again in 2002 showed significant
reductions in drug use among Autauga County’s 8th graders: from
35.9 percent to 24.4 percent for nicotine, 39.9 percent to 30 percent for
alcohol, and 18.5 percent to 11.8 percent for marijuana.
For more information about Autauga’s Independent Decision program,
call (334) 358–4900.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 4
Substance abuse should be recognized for what it is—a major
health issue—and dealt with accordingly. Like vision and hearing
tests, drug testing can alert parents to potential problems that
continued drug use might cause, such as liver or lung damage,
memory impairment, addiction, overdose, even death. Once the
drug problem has been identified, intervention and then treatment,
if appropriate, can begin.
Testing can also be an effective way to prevent drug use. The
expectation that they may be randomly tested is enough to make
some students stop using drugs—or never start in the first place.
That kind of deterrence has been demonstrated many times
over in the American workplace. Employees in many national
security and safety-sensitive positions—airline pilots, commercial
truck drivers, school bus drivers, to name a few—are subject to
pre-employment and random drug tests to ensure public safety.
Employers who have followed the Federal model have seen a 67-
percent drop in positive drug
tests. Along with significant
declines in absenteeism, accidents,
and healthcare costs,
they’ve also experienced dramatic
increases in worker productivity.
While some students resist the idea of drug testing, many
endorse it. For one thing, it gives them a good excuse to say “no”
to drugs. Peer pressure among young people can be a powerful
and persuasive force. Knowing they may have to submit to a drug
test can help kids overcome the pressure to take drugs by giving
them a convenient “out.” This could serve them well in years to
come: Students represent the workforce of tomorrow, and eventually
many will need to pass a drug test to get a job.
It is important to understand that the goal of school-based
drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs. Although
consequences for illegal drug use should be part of any testing
program—suspension from an athletic activity or revoked parking
privileges, for example—the primary purpose is to deter use
and guide those who test positive into counseling or treatment. In
addition, drug testing in schools should never be undertaken as a
stand-alone response to the drug problem. Rather, it should be
one component of a broader program designed to reduce students’
use of illegal drugs.
The expectation that they may be
randomly tested is enough to make
some students stop using drugs—or
never start in the first place.
What Are the Benefits of Drug Testing?
Drug use can quickly turn to dependence and addiction, trapping
users in a vicious cycle that destroys families and ruins lives. Students
who use drugs or alcohol are statistically more likely to drop out of
school than their peers who don’t. Dropouts, in turn, are more likely
to be unemployed, to depend on the welfare system, and to commit
crimes. If drug testing deters drug use,
everyone benefits—students, their families,
their schools, and their communities.
Drug and alcohol abuse not only interferes
with a student’s ability to learn, it
also disrupts the orderly environment
necessary for all students to succeed.
Studies have shown that students who use
drugs are more likely to bring guns and
knives to school, and that the more marijuana
a student smokes, the greater the
chances he or she will be involved in physical
attacks, property destruction, stealing,
and cutting classes. Just as parents and
students can expect schools to offer protection
from violence, racism, and other forms of abuse, so do
they have the right to expect a learning environment free from the
influence of illegal drugs.
What Are the Risks?
Schools should proceed with caution before testing students
for drugs. Screenings are not 100 percent accurate, so every positive
screen should be followed by a laboratory-based confirming
test. Before going ahead with tests, schools should also have a
good idea of precisely what drugs their students are using. Testing
for just one set of illegal drugs when others pose an equal or
greater threat would do little to address a school’s drug problem.
Confidentiality is a major concern with students and their parents.
Schools have a responsibility to respect students’ privacy, so
it is vital that only the people who need to know the test results
see them—parents and school administrators, for example. The
results should not be shared with anyone else, not even teachers.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 5
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 6
Developing a Testing Program
What Should You Do Before You Begin Testing?
The decision of whether to implement a drug-testing program
should not be left to one individual, or even to a school board. It
should involve the entire community. In fact, by making the effort
to include everyone, a school can greatly increase its chances of
adopting a successful testing program.
It is not enough to have a general sense that student drug testing
sounds like a good idea. Schools must first determine whether
there is a real need for testing. Such a need can be determined
from student drug-use surveys, reports by teachers and other
school staff about student drug use, reports about drug use from
parents and others in the community, and from discoveries of
drug paraphernalia or drug residue at school.
If student drug use is found
to be a significant problem,
schools will want to consult
early in their deliberations with
an attorney familiar with laws
regarding student drug testing.
They should seek the advice of
drug prevention and treatment
professionals, and also contact
officials at schools that already have drug-testing programs to
learn what works and what doesn’t.
Schools considering testing will want plenty of public input.
They should bring together members of the board of education,
school administrators and staff, parents, community leaders, local
healthcare agencies, local businesses, students, and anyone else
who has an interest in reducing student drug use—even those
who are against the idea. Listening to opponents and including
their views can strengthen the testing program and improve its
chances of success.
Schools considering testing
will want plenty of public input,
bringing together anyone who
has an interest in reducing
student drug use.
What Are the Elements of a Drug-Testing Program?
Many workplaces have had
drug-testing programs in
place for years, and recently
some school districts have
implemented programs for
testing their athletes.
Successful programs typically
share a number of common
elements, beginning with a
clear written policy. Parents
and teachers sign a statement declaring that they understand the
policy, which is announced at least 90 days before testing begins. An
effective policy addresses questions such as:
. Which students can be tested for drug use?
. What is the process for selecting students for testing?
. Who will conduct the test?
. What are the consequences of a positive drug test?
. Are steps clearly articulated for helping students who test positive for
. Will a second confirming test be done?
. Who pays for the test?
. Will subsequent positive tests result in suspension or expulsion from
. Are test results cumulative throughout a student’s tenure at the
school, or is the slate wiped clean each year?
. What happens if a student refuses to take the test? Will refusal be
construed as a drug-positive test?
. Who will see the test results, and how will confidentiality be maintained?
. How will parents be informed about positive test results?
. How does a student contest the results of a positive test result? And
what mechanism is in place for students whose prescription medication
triggers a positive reading?
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 7
What Kinds of Tests Are Available?
Urinalysis, the most common drug testing method, has been
studied exhaustively and used extensively, has undergone rigorous
challenge in the courts, and has proved to be accurate and reliable.
As a result, urinalysis currently is the only technique
approved for drug testing in the Federal workforce. Some employers,
however, have already begun using other types of drug tests—
on hair, sweat, and oral fluids. Each of these new tests has benefits
as well as drawbacks. The chart on page 9 outlines some of the
pros and cons.
What Does Each Test Measure?
Drug tests are used to determine whether a person has used
alcohol or illegal drugs. Some tests show recent use only, while
others indicate use over a longer period. Each type of test has different
applications and is used to detect a specific drug or group
of drugs. The Federal Drug-Free Workplace program, which
serves as a model for accuracy and quality assurance in drug testing,
relies on a urine test designed to detect the use of marijuana,
opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and phencyclidine (PCP). Urine
tests can also be used to detect alcohol, LSD, and cotenine, the
major metabolite of nicotine.
Following are summaries of the most commonly used tests:
Results of a urine test show the presence or absence of specific
drugs or drug metabolites in the urine.Metabolites are drug
residues that remain in the system for some time after the effects
of the drug have worn off. A positive urine test does not necessarily
mean the subject was under the influence of drugs at the time
of the test. Rather, it detects and measures use of a particular drug
within the previous few days.
Analysis of hair may provide a much longer “testing window” for
the presence of drugs and drug metabolites, giving a more complete
drug-use history that goes back as far as 90 days. Like urine
testing, hair testing does not provide evidence of current impairment,
only past use of a specific drug. Hair testing cannot be used
to detect alcohol.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 8
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 9
Pros Cons Window of Detection
Urine • Highest assurance of reliable results.
• Least expensive.
• Most flexibility in testing different drugs, including
alcohol and nicotine.
• Most likely of all drug-testing methods to withstand
• Typically 1 to 5 days.
Hair • Longer window of detection.
• Greater stability (does not deteriorate).
• Can measure chronic drug use.
• Convenient shipping and storage (no need to
• Collection procedure not considered invasive
• More difficult to adulterate than urine.
• Detects alcohol/cocaine combination use.
• More expensive.
• Test usually limited to basic 5-drug panel.
• Cannot detect alcohol use.
• Will not detect very recent drug use
(1 to 7 days prior to test).
• Depends on the length of
hair in the sample. Hair
grows about a half-inch per
month, so a 1½-inch
specimen would show a
Oral Fluids • Sample obtained under direct observation.
• Minimal risk of tampering.
• Samples can be collected easily in virtually any
• Can detect alcohol use.
• Reflects recent drug use.
• Drugs and drug metabolites do not remain
in oral fluids as long as they do in urine.
• Less efficient than other testing methods
in detecting marijuana use.
• Approximately 10 to 24
Sweat Patch • Non-invasive.
• Variable removal date (generally 1 to 7 days).
• Quick application and removal.
• Longer window of detection than urine.
• No sample substitution possible.
• Limited number of labs able to process results.
• People with skin eruptions, excessive hair,
or cuts and abrasions cannot wear the patch.
• Passive exposure to drugs may contaminate
patch and affect results.
• Patch retains evidence of
drug use for at least 7 days,
and can detect even low
levels of drugs 2 to 5 hours
after last use.
Type of Test
• Specimen can be adulterated, substituted,
• Limited window of detection.
• Test sometimes viewed as invasive or
• Biological hazard for specimen handling
and shipping to lab.
Pros and Cons of the Various Drug Testing Methods
Another type of drug test consists of a skin patch that measures
drugs and drug metabolites in perspiration. The patch, which
looks like a large adhesive bandage, is applied to the skin and
worn for some length of time. A gas-permeable membrane on the
patch protects the tested area from dirt and other contaminants.
The sweat patch is sometimes used in the criminal justice system
to monitor drug use by parolees and probationers, but so far it
has not been widely used in workplaces or schools.
Traces of drugs, drug metabolites, and alcohol can be detected in
oral fluids, the generic term for saliva and other material collected
from the mouth. Oral fluids are easy to collect—a swab of the
inner cheek is the most common way. They are harder to adulterate
or substitute, and collection is less invasive than with urine or
hair testing. Because drugs and drug metabolites do not remain in
oral fluids as long as they do in urine, this method shows more
promise in determining current use and impairment.
Unlike urine tests, breath-alcohol tests do detect and measure current
alcohol levels. The subject blows into a breath-alcohol test
device, and the results are given as a number, known as the Blood
Alcohol Concentration, which shows the level of alcohol in the
blood at the time the test was taken. In the U.S. Department of
Transportation regulations, an alcohol level of 0.04 is high enough
to stop someone from performing a safety-sensitive task for that day.
What Do Drug Tests NOT Measure?
The five-drug urine test used in the Federal Drug-Free
Workplace Program does not detect all drugs used by young people.
For example, it does not detect so-called “club” drugs such as
gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and Ecstasy, for example,
although other urine tests can determine use of these drugs, and
hair tests can easily detect Ecstasy use. No standard test, however,
can detect inhalant abuse, a problem that can have serious, even
fatal, consequences. (Inhalant abuse refers to the deliberate inhalation
or sniffing of common household products—gasoline, correction
fluid, felt-tip markers, spray paint, air freshener, and cooking
spray, to name a few—with the purpose of “getting high.”)
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 10
What Can Students Expect?
Drug testing is commonly a four-step process: collection,
screening, confirmation, and review.When called in to take a drug
test, the student is met by a trained “collector,” or test administrator,
who gives instructions and receives the specimen. It is also the
collector’s job to complete the chain-of-custody form, which
keeps track of where the specimen has been and who has handled
it throughout the process. The form ensures that the specimen
was handled properly and in such a way that does not call its
source or the test results into question.
If the student is providing a urine sample,
a temperature strip is put on the collection
container to guard against a substitute
sample. A tamper-evident tape is put over
the specimen container, and then the student
is asked to initial it and verify the
Next, the specimen is screened for drugs
or drug metabolites. If the screening test is
positive, the test will be confirmed by a second,
more exacting test. All confirmed positive
tests should then be reviewed by a physician
or nurse with knowledge of substanceabuse
disorders to rule out legitimate prescription
Some specimens are screened at the collection site, and the initial
results are known within minutes; others are screened at a laboratory.
All negative screens—those that show no drugs or drug
metabolites—are eliminated from further consideration.
Specimens that test positive for drugs in the initial screen are
examined further in the laboratory through a second analytic
technique called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry
(GC/MS), which is actually a combination of two specialized techniques.
Technicians use gas chromatography to separate the various
substances in the specimen, then they make a positive identification
through mass spectrometry.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 11
Administering the Test
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 12
Testing Made the Difference
Hunterdon Central Regional High School
Teachers and administrators at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in
Flemington, New Jersey, were alarmed. A survey taken during the 1996–1997
school year revealed that 45 percent of the school’s 2,500 students had smoked
marijuana, 70 percent were drinking alcohol, and 13 percent of all seniors had
used cocaine. More than 10 percent of the student population had used hallucinogens,
and 38 percent of seniors reported that heroin was readily available to them.
“Our drug problem was probably no worse than that of other high schools,”
says Principal Lisa Brady. “But for us, this was just unacceptable.”
In September 1997, Hunterdon began a random drug-testing program for all
student athletes. Urine was tested for marijuana, cocaine, heroin/codeine,
amphetamine/methamphetamine, PCP, steroids, and alcohol. If a student tested
positive, the school notified the parents and set up a meeting with the student, his
or her parents, and a school counselor to discuss treatment options. The student
attended a mandatory 4-week drug education course and was suspended from
athletic activity until a subsequent test showed the drug use had stopped.
“We had one of the best random testing implementations in the country,” says
Brady. “It was working well.” Indeed, a survey in 1999 showed that drug use at
Hunterdon had declined in 20 of 28 key categories. For example, cocaine use
among seniors had dropped from 13 percent to 4 percent, according to the survey.
In another encouraging finding, the number of 10th graders reporting little or
no use of drugs or alcohol increased from 41.8 percent to 47.3 percent.
Brady credits drug testing for the decline. “It was the only variable in the equation,”
she says. “Nothing else had changed.” Hunterdon expanded its testing program
in February 2000 to include students participating in any extracurricular
activity. Even kids who wanted to act in school plays or obtain a parking permit
could be called in to take a drug test. Eventually, problems with adulterated urine
samples prompted school officials to give up urine testing and start testing oral
In September 2000, however, the school suspended all random testing when
the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in New Jersey state court on
behalf of students who claimed their Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
(The suit is still pending.) Since the school halted testing, Brady has seen what she
believes to be clear evidence that drug use at Hunterdon has begun to rise.
“There’s no question it’s gotten worse,” she says.
Before drug testing began at Hunterdon, many people in the community resisted
the idea, explains Brady. “Now parents are demanding that we test their kids.”
Alcohol-specific tests may be performed entirely at the collection
location if appropriate breath-alcohol testing equipment and
procedures are used. Some oral fluid tests can also be used to
obtain an immediate initial test result, with the positive screen
going on to a laboratory for confirmation.
A positive test result does not automatically mean the student
uses illegal drugs. In fact, positive results are sometimes triggered
by other, legal substances. Certain over-the-counter medications,
for example, can cause a positive reading for amphetamines. So
when the GC/MS confirmation test
comes back positive, it is important
for a doctor, nurse, or other specialist
to review the results and determine if
illicit drugs are indeed the culprit.
In the Federal Drug-Free
Workplace Program, a medical review
officer is required to go over positive test results with the donor
and determine if there could be a legitimate explanation.
Everything is done confidentially, and safeguards are in place to
make sure workers are not falsely labeled drug users when their
positive test results are found to have a legitimate cause.
Schools should also take care that a student’s confidentiality
and privacy are not violated, and that students who test positive
because they are taking prescription medications are not wrongly
branded as drug users. It bears repeating that the purpose of drug
testing is to keep students from using drugs, and to help or refer
to treatment those who may be drug dependent.
What Happens If the Test Is Positive?
Results of a positive drug test should not be used merely to
punish a student. Drug and alcohol use can lead to addiction, and
punishment alone may not necessarily halt this progression.
However, the road to addiction can be blocked by timely intervention
and appropriate treatment.
When a positive test result has been reviewed and confirmed
for illegal drug use, the school’s crucial next step is to contact the
parents and help them stop their child’s drug use. Parents play a
key role in drug-abuse prevention, so they need lots of guidance
and support. They also need to know that anger, accusations, and
harsh punishment could make the situation worse. The best
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 13
The purpose of drug testing
is to keep students from
using drugs, and to help
those who may be drug
approach for parents is usually to stay firm and to treat their child
with respect as they work together as a family to change his or her
After involving the parents, school officials may refer the student
to a trained substance-abuse counselor, who can perform a
drug assessment and determine whether the child needs treatment
or other specialized help. For young people who use drugs occasionally,
a few words from the counselor or parents—coupled
with the prospect of future drug tests—may be enough to put an
end to the drug use. For frequent users or those in danger of
becoming drug dependent, treatment will likely be necessary.
Many schools require drug-positive students to enroll in a
drug education course or activity. Some also offer Student
Assistance Programs, whose trained counselors are linked to
resources in the greater community and can help students cope
with a variety of problems, including substance abuse. In any case,
the school will want to perform follow-up drug tests on students
with positive results to make sure they stay drug free.
Can Students “Beat” the Tests?
Many drug-using students are aware of techniques that supposedly
detoxify their systems or mask their drug use. Some drink
large amounts of water just before the test to dilute their urine;
others add salt, bleach, or vinegar to their sample. In some cases,
users call on their drug-free friends to leave bottles of clean urine
in the bathroom stalls.
Popular magazines and Internet sites give advice on how to
dilute urine samples, and there are even companies that sell clean
urine or products designed to distort test results. A number of
techniques and products are focused on urine tests for marijuana,
but masking products increasingly are becoming available for tests
of hair, oral fluids, and multiple drugs.
Most of these masking products do not work, cost a lot of
money, and are almost always easily identified in the testing
process. But even if the specific drug is successfully masked, the
product itself can be detected, in which case the student using it
would become an obvious candidate for additional screening and
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 14
Who Does the Testing?
Laboratories all over the country perform drug tests, but not all
of them produce consistently accurate and reliable results. Many
schools choose labs from among those certified by the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to
perform urine testing for Federal agencies. A list of SAMHSA-certified
labs is available on the
Internet at http://workplace.samhsa.
Before deciding on a laboratory,
schools should carefully assess
the drug problem in their community.
The standard Federal workplace
test screens for the presence
of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP. But if a
school faces a significant threat from Ecstasy, methamphetamine,
ketamine, GHB, or some other drug, administrators will need to be
sure that any laboratory they are considering is also capable of testing
for these drugs.
How Much Do Drug Tests Cost?
The price of drug testing varies according to the type of test and
the drugs involved, but generally the cost is between $10 and $30 per
test, with hair testing somewhat higher. The price for onsite alcohol
tests usually ranges from $1 to $10 per test.
Some schools have paid for drug tests through Federal grants
from SAMHSA or the U. S. Department of Education’s Safe and
Drug-Free Schools Program. Others get money for testing from private
foundations.When school-based programs begin to expand,
testing providers will likely start offering volume price incentives.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 15
Before deciding on a laboratory,
school officials should carefully
assess the drug problem in their
Again, the aim of drug testing is not to trap and punish students
who use drugs. It is, in fact, counterproductive simply to
punish them without trying to alter their behavior. If drug-using
students are suspended or expelled without any attempt to change
their ways, the community will be faced with drug-using
dropouts, an even bigger problem in the long run. The purpose of
testing, then, is to prevent drug dependence and to help drugdependent
students become drug free.
Before implementing a drug-testing program, parents and
communities must make sure appropriate resources are in place
to deal with students who test positive. For example, substanceabuse
specialists should be available to determine the nature and
extent of the drug use, and there should be comprehensive treatment
services for students with potentially serious drug problems.
Schools need to educate parents about exactly what the drug tests
are measuring and what to do if their child tests positive. It is vital
for parents to know that resources are available to help them
gauge the extent of their child’s drug use and, if necessary, find
For those who worry about the “Big Brother” dimension of
drug testing, it is worth pointing out that test results are generally
required by law to remain confidential, and in no case are they
turned over to the police.
D R U G T E S T I N G I N S C H O O L S 16
Conclusion & Literature
For Guidance and Facts About Drug Testing
The Web site for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
provides information about testing technologies, products, and services.
SAMHSA’s list of certified laboratories is updated every month.
The College of American Pathologists has a Web site offering information about choosing a lab.
Substance Abuse Information and Treatment Referrals
SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information provides referrals and resource
materials about substance abuse prevention and treatment.
Use the toll-free number to:
• Request printed materials on substance abuse.
• Learn about treatment options in your state.
• Speak to someone about substance abuse.
• Speak to someone about drug treatment referrals.
Recovery Network provides information about substance abuse, addiction, and mental health problems.
The National Association of Student Assistance Professionals has information about Student
Government Web Sites Offering Drug-Related Information
Office of National Drug Control Policy
National Youth Anti-Drug
druganswer.com (in Asian languages)
National Institute on Drug Abuse
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of
the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program
(U.S. Department of Education)