Following the Supreme Court decision in Veronia School District v. Wayne Acton (515 U. S. 646 1995), drug testing of high school athletes has gained favour among schools administrations (Wright 12). However, there are some who are calling it a heavy-handed, ineffective way to discourage drug use that undermines trust and invades a student’s privacy (Berger, par. 7). This paper attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of drug testing policies after reviewing some empirical studies which deal with the link between drug testing of athletes and drug use among the general student population.
The author also intends to examine the usual justifications given for drug testing of students, to determine whether they are adequate, and whether similar justifications could be misused to impose drug testing on other, larger, groups. II. Athletes as “Role Models” for drug use Athletes who use drugs and alcohol are apparently a negative role model for other adolescents. This is especially true for younger athletes, who would possibly be influenced by their strong desire to be accepted by their peers in athletic activities.
The SATURN program, mentions this as one of the primary reasons for adopting the policy of drug testing of athletes instead of testing all students: Athletes can be role models for non-athlete students, and their abstinence may influence other student behavior. Athletes are often opinion leaders. Reducing drug use among this group can extend to non-athlete friends and peers, lowering substance abuse in the entire school (Oregon Health and Science University). Those who support the policy of suspicionless random drug testing of athletes argue that they are looking to maximize benefits; that they are looking at the greater good.
Firstly, there is the claim mentioned above that reduced drug use among athletes will contribute to overall reduced drug use. Secondly, even if the athletes who have tested positive, and are thus not allowed to participate, continue using these substances, they will at least not set a negative example for younger athletes and the rest of the school to follow. Their claim is that while there may be individual cases of students dropping out of athletic programs and increasing drug use, drug testing will discourage use among the majority of the student body.
Empirical evidence however, does not support this argument. Robert Taylor in Compensating Behaviour and The Drug Testing of High School Athletes, uses several studies to compare the use of drugs by athletes and non athletes, indicating that drug use among college athletes is significantly lower than use in the general college population for a whole host of drugs, including alcohol—even in the absence of drug testing (par. 3). This clearly demonstrates that the use of drugs by non athletes is not directly related to use by athletes.
The assertion that the use or lack of drug use by athlete role models will be imitated by those who support random drug testing of athletes goes directly against the statistical evidence. Not only do these grounds for drug testing of athletes fail to hold up under scrutiny, but there is a possibility that testing athletes may have a negative effect, actually resulting in increased drug use. According to Taylor: Drug testing, by invading the privacy of student athletes and by making continued drug use difficult or impossible, increases the cost of athletic participation and will most probably lead marginal student athletes to “quit the team”.
Freed from the regimen of athletics, these former athletes may revert to the drug-use patterns of their non-athlete peers—who have higher rates of drug usage than athletes (par. 4) Thus we see that drug testing, instead of reducing overall drug usage, effects a redistribution of usage patterns, in which those athletes who already use drugs increase their usage while the limited number of serious athletes who either use drugs less regularly or don’t use them at all stop using them.
Therefore, it results in increased risk for some people and reduction of risk for those for whom the risk factor was already quite low. This outcome, while outlined theoretically only, is quite plausible, and should raise some questions about the effectiveness of random testing of athletes. Even if the Role Model argument is true in some cases, research obtained from the Educational Resources Information Center, under the Department of Education, concludes that school drug testing is not associated with either the prevalence or frequency of student drug use (Yamaguchi, Johnston and O’Malley 12) .
The case for testing athletes is also hit by results which show that drug testing of athletes was not associated with lower than average drug use by high school male athletes (ibid). III. Judicial Opinion The American Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of random suspicionless drug testing of students in very few judgments, of which two relevant cases are discussed here. In Veronia School District v. Wayne Acton (515 U. S. 646 1995) a student was denied participation in athletic activities because he and his parents refused to sign the testing consent forms.
They filed a suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from enforcement of the Policy on the grounds that it violated the Fourth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, §9, of the Oregon Constitution. The Court allowed the testing policy for athletes on the basis of the Role Model and Injury Risk arguments (Wright 9). It was their opinion that athletes stood to lose more from the use of drugs than the normal student. Where school athletes are concerned, the risk of immediate physical harm to the drug user or those with whom he is playing his sport is particularly high.
Apart from psychological effects, which include impairment of judgment, slow reaction time, and a lessening of the perception of pain, the drugs screened by the District’s Policy had been demonstrated to pose substantial physical risks to athletes. The Court concluded that the decreased expectation of privacy, the relative unobtrusiveness of the search, and the severity of the need met by the search justified a random drug testing policy. The problem with allowing testing on these grounds is the potential they have for civil rights abuse.
The Apex Court has set a dangerous precedent by allowing drug testing of high school athletes, as is evident from another Supreme Court judgment in Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County et al. V. Earls et al (536 U. S. 822). In this case, The Student Activities Drug Testing Policy adopted by the Tecumseh, Oklahoma, School District required all middle and high school students to consent to urinalysis testing for drugs in order to participate not just in athletics, but any extracurricular activity.
The court allowed the policy on the very same grounds as given above. Some of the extracurricular activities which required the students to consent to drug testing were cheerleading, choir and the Academic Team. This is not like the Veronia case, where the judges gave the additional reason that the use of drugs by athletes will increase the risk of immediate physical harm to the drug user or those with whom he is playing his sport. Several of the activities covered under the testing policy did not involve any physical or athletic activity.
This clearly demonstrates how school drug testing policies are progressively being given more scope to violate the civil liberties of their students. Since the 2002 decision, the Bush administration has spent $8 million to help schools pay for drug testing programs (Berger, par. 9). The White House hopes to spend $15 million on drug-testing grants in the next fiscal year (ibid). The court has already decided that students have a lower expectation of privacy on rather weak grounds such as “communal undress” being common in extracurricular activities, and allowed urine tests.
This is alarming, because similar arguments can be extended to cover anyone working together or living together. How long can the courts be allowed to continue invading privacy in this manner, before a situation arises where every organization or institution or residential area you are connected to has the right to test you without suspicion, at any random time they want to? This is why the precedent set in the Veronia case should be used with discretion, and limited by future benches to similar circumstances only. IV. Conclusion
No one can deny that drug addiction early in life is extremely serious, and drug testing seems to be the obvious way of dealing with this problem. The Supreme Court has noted that children are particularly vulnerable to the physical, psychological, and addictive effects of drugs; they grow chemically dependent more quickly than adults, and their record of recovery is depressingly poor. However, none of the three major arguments for drug testing of athletes are completely free from doubt or ambiguity. The Role Model theory, while prima facie obvious, is contradicted by empirical evidence.
The Injury Risk theory does not justify the selection of the athlete sub group in particular. Certain non-athletic activities like chemistry laboratory work are as hazardous, if not more so in some cases. If a school wishes to prevent injuries due to drug use, it should extend the program to cover a host of other activities, which will entail much higher costs. Finally the courts statement that students have a lower expectation of privacy may prove to be the gateway to a whole range of privacy violating policies, possibly affecting groups apart from students.
This trend of ignoring privacy cannot go beyond drug testing in schools. The legal system should work to prevent a situation where ordinary people are subject to drug tests from any establishment. The effectiveness of the drug testing policy approved by the court in Veronia has never been proved as there have been no scientific studies to measure actual student drug use rates in the region (Yamaguchi, Johnston and O’Malley 4).
While the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of drug testing is not definitive, the results certainly suggest that drug testing in school may not be the panacea for reducing drug use that some (including some on the supreme court) had hoped (Yamaguchi, Johnston and O’Malley 14). Testing is expensive, individual tests can cost anything from $50-$250 each (Scott, par. 27) More conclusive proof is required before this kind expenditure on random drug testing can be justified. Works Cited Berger, Christy.
“School Drug Testing – Pros & Cons of Student Drug Testing at Schools? ” Test Country, URL: http://resources. testcountry. com/School-Drug-Testing. htm (01 May 2007). Board Of Education Of Independent School District No. 92 Of Pottawatomie County, et al. , Petitioners V. Lindsay Earls et al [536 U. S. 822] Oregon Health & Science University, SATURN Program Overview, URL: http://www. ohsu. edu/hpsm/saturndtest. html (02 May 2007). Scott, Anna. “Proposal requires random steroid testing for high school athletes”, Herald Tribune, 03 May 2007.
Taylor, Robert. “Compensating Behaviour and the Drug Testing of High School Athletes”. The Cato Journal Vol. 16 No. 3 1997. Vernonia School District 47j, Petitioner V. Wayne Acton, et ux. , etc [515 U. S. 646 (1995)]. Wright, Ronald F. , “The Abruptness of Acton”. Criminal Law Bulletin Vol. 36 2000, URL: http://ssrn. com/abstract=243329 Yamaguchi, Ryoko; Johnston, Lloyd D. and O’Malley, Patrick M. “The Relationship between Student Illicit Drug Use and School Drug Testing Policies”. Journal of School Health April 2003.