Putnam County School District in West Virginia drug tested 1,072 6th-to-12th graders last year at a cost of over $50,000, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. The drug testing, performed via a cheek saliva swab, uncovered less than 1% of those students as drug users.
The random drug testing program comprises over 3,000 students who have signed up for athletics or extra-curricular activities, who drive themselves to school, or whose parents have signed them up for the program.
Danielle Gillispie, Putnam’s coordinator of drug prevention and education, indicates that the drugs tested for include amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, phencyclidine, barbiturates, cocaine, opiates and marijuana. However, alcohol and steroids are only “occasionally” tested for, as those tests are more expensive, despite alcohol being the illegal (for minors) drug used most by students.
School officials are defending the $50,000 cost to catch ten or fewer students using drugs. They claim that the drug tests have given students an excuse to “just say no” and that the state’s survey of student drug use proves that. According to the “PRIDE Survey” for West Virginia, in the year during the imposition of drug testing (2010-2011), drug use among 8th graders increased 1% and among 11th graders it decreased 3.6%. In the first full year of testing (2011-2012), drug use among 8th graders dropped 5% and among 11th graders dropped 9.4%.
But these surveys are students’ self-reported drug use and we would argue that the threat of being selected for a drug test may cause kids to under-report their substance use. The threat of a drug test keeps some other non-drug using kids from trying out in the first place.
Furthermore, kids who are more likely to have a substance abuse problem are not the ones likely to be trying out for sports, band, and chess club. For those students who do extra curricular activities, if they choose to use a substance, the drug test has now incentivized them toward alcohol and drugs that flush from their systems much more rapidly than non-toxic marijuana.