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School drug tests ineffective but a ‘positive climate’ might work

A national study of teenagers suggests that school drug testing did not deter them from starting to smoke tobacco or marijuana or drink alcohol. But in high schools that had a “positive school climate,” teens were less likely to start smoking cigarettes or marijuana.


Research published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs compared the effectiveness over one year of school policies of student drug testing, which are in place in an estimated 20 percent of U.S. high schools, with a positive school climate.


“The bad news is that a policy of drug testing has no effect on students starting to use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana,” said study co-author Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at the University of Pennsylvania. “There’s also no effect on escalating the use of those substances.”


The study found, however, that students in schools with a positive school climate reported a lower rate of starting to use cigarettes and marijuana, and a slower escalation of smoking at the one-year follow-up interview. Students in schools with positive climates were 15 percent less likely to start smoking cigarettes and 20 percent less likely to start using marijuana than students at schools without positive climates, the study shows.


Student drug testing “is a relatively ineffective drug-prevention policy,” wrote the researchers, Dan Romer and Sharon R. Sznitman, an APPC Distinguished Research Fellow and a lecturer at the School of Public Health, University of Haifa, Israel. “On the other hand, interventions that improve school climate may have greater efficacy.” The study added that “whole school” health efforts that engage students, faculty and parents, and promote a sense of security and well-being have been found to reduce substance abuse.


Neither drug testing nor school climate affected the start of drinking alcohol.


For the complete news release click here. To read the study click here. And for APPC’s issue brief on student drug testing, click here.