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April 7, 2006 - Daily Iowan (IA Edu)

Editorial: Drug Proposal Misses The Mark

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

President Bush has proposed an initiative to increase by 50 percent the number of random drug tests in high schools.

Currently, only 600 schools nationwide perform "suspicionless" drug tests, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has spent $8 million to promote and support this testing since 2002. While we appreciate that drugs are bad, this policy is misguided for many reasons and should be abandoned.

Given that low participation to date can be credited more to reticent high schools than a lack of funding, much of the $15 million requested will likely go into promotional efforts, as the feds try to coax more schools into the program.

They will be facing an uphill fight on several levels; Iowa state law, for example, prohibits random testing outright.

And schools have good reason for their doubts: Two studies by a group of University of Michigan professors, who have received White House funding for other research on drug use, found random drug-testing in high schools provided no deterrence to drug use.

This is no surprise.

The logic behind the testing is that if students know they have a random chance of being tested, they will be scared off using drugs.

However, teenagers are less likely to reason this way than they are to assume they will never get caught.

Or, because the Supreme Court has ruled only students who participate in extracurricular activities can be subject to this testing, determined drug users may avoid testing by avoiding activities. This will have a negative effect on students' engagement with their school community while doing nothing to discourage drug use.

While minuscule in comparison with the money we are pouring into Iraq, $15 million could do a lot of good in other places.

It is sorely needed by the Katrina relief effort, and it would match the Bush administration's initial pledge of aid to Asian countries devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

It could pay for textbooks, higher teacher salaries, or better school facilities. Any of these options would surely have a more positive effect on society than random drug tests. Meanwhile, programs that actually can combat drug use in America are struggling for funding.

It makes more sense to fund programs that cut the drug trade off at the source than to chase after high-schoolers who may be smoking pot. And because harder drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamines, leave a user's system within a few days, marijuana users will be the primary target.

Who is more dangerous to society and deserves more money and attention from the authorities: people cooking up huge batches of methamphetamines in barns or high-school sophomores smoking a joint in their basements?

Bush's proposal is a public-relations tool for politicians who want to promote themselves as being tough on drugs.

Drug-prevention strategies that actually work are more nuanced and logistical and can't be easily summarized in a 30-second campaign ad. Instead, this administration is dramatizing fears about drugs in schools - despite the fact that surveys show that drug use by high-school students is actually declining.

Random drug testing is needless, as well as useless.

This program is a waste of money and resources, and it will only increase antagonism and hostility between students and administrators, rather than combating the very real problems of drug use and America's education system.

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