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AAP Raises Concerns About Random Drug Tests In Schools

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is against random drug tests in schools, recommending against the school-based "suspicionless" drug tests in an updated policy statement published in the newest issue of the Pediatrics journal.

According to the lead author of the new policy statement, Dr. Sharon Levy, the identification of students using drugs and placing them in treatment program needs to be the top priority, but random drug testing has not been proven to help in accomplishing this goal.

"Evidence on either side is very limited," said Levy to Reuters, who is also the Boston Children's Hospital's adolescent substance abuse program director.

The best scientific method for testing the value that random drug testing provides is to put certain students in a drug test program while others not, within a single school. However, that is hard to carry out. Instead, researchers are comparing schools implementing random drug tests to schools not doing them, leading to mixed results.

According to Levy, while one school reported a short-term decrease in the self-reported usage of drugs by its students, random drug testing is expensive, invasive and generally only leads to limited results.

Levy added that drug use by adolescents are often sporadic, which means that a student that passes a random annual drug test may begin to feel comfortable to use drugs over the rest of the school year.

Drug testing could return false positives, and true positives does not reveal the quantity and frequency of the student's drug use, said Ken Winters from the University of Minnesota Medical School's psychiatry department.

The random drug tests by themselves will not lead to a change in behavior for drug abuse, Winters wrote in an e-mail to Reuters.

Levy also pointed out that the privacy of students may also be violated as drug tests could determine traces of the prescription medicine that each student takes.

Levy noted that, while drug testing is a part of the treatment of children that have been diagnosed with problems and disorders regarding substance use, it is not an appropriate tool for the general screening that it is being used for within schools.

According to Levy, a more successful and less expensive alternative to random drug testing is confidential self-reported screening.

The AAP supports the involvement of schools in the prevention, identification and reduction of substance use of adolescents, adding that schools should have a major role in caring for students that have been found to have disorders related to substance use.

Photo: Francis Storr | Flickr

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