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Overview Drug Testing Works Program Development

Develop a policy

The committee or task force you have formed can help you decide whether the tests will be administered by school staff or by someone hired from outside the school, such as staff from the local drug court who are trained in collection procedures and chain-of-custody issues.

Your advisory committee can weigh the pros and cons of the various types of tests—urine, hair, sweat, and saliva—and also offer advice, based on the data you collected, on which drugs to test for. Once such decisions are made, the committee can help you develop your school's drug-testing policy.

There is no single model policy that will fit every school's particular needs. However, effective policies do share a number of common elements that you should incorporate in yours. First of all, it should be a written policy, rendered in clear, concise language that allows no ambiguity in what you are proposing.

Policy Elements. There are four primary areas of concern that should be addressed in a school drug-testing policy:

  • Statement of Need. Why is it important to rid the school of drugs?
  • Introduction/Position Statement. What is the school's positon regarding substance use and student health, safety, confidentiality, and implementation of the drug-testing program?
  • Key Components. Provide specific information on matters such as:
    • which categories of students will be tested
    • how students will be selected for a drug test
    • what drugs will be targeted
    • specimen collection and chain-of-custody issues
    • how consent for testing will be obtained
    • how confidentiality of student information will be maintained
    • how drug-test results will be protected
    • what consequences will follow a positive test result or refusal to take the test
  • List of Student Rights. What rights do students have under the drug-testing policy, and what are the school's responsibilities to the students?

Those who read your policy should be able to understand the testing procedure, and that positive test results will undergo further review by qualified medical personnel to determine the likelihood of legitimate medications causing the positive reading. The policy should explain what recourses are available to a student who believes a positive result was an error, and it must articulate the consequences of a true positive test. It also should clearly state the permissible use of test results, indicating precisely who may (and may not) see them, and it should underscore, above all, that school administrators will maintain strict confidentiality.

Working with your advisory committee, develop consent forms for parents and students to sign indicating they have read your policy, understand it, and agree to take part in the drug-testing program. Announce the policy at least 90 days before testing begins. When collecting information from students on drug use, be mindful of the U.S. Department of Education's regulations on confidentiality and release of information. The two primary regulations are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).

Student assistance programs. Any school contemplating a student drug-testing program must have some sort of mechanism for working with students whose test results are positive. For those who have just started using drugs or use them only occasionally, a few words from a counselor and/or parents—coupled with the prospect of future drug tests—may be enough to discourage further use. Frequent users or those in danger of becoming chemically dependent will likely need clinical treatment.

One way to assure these young people receive the appropriate level of counseling or treatment is to provide access to a student assistance program. Operating in much the same way as employee assistance programs in the workplace, student assistance programs have a long history of helping schools remove barriers to learning. These programs help young people improve their success in school by connecting them with the most appropriate resources for the many issues that interfere with learning, such as family problems, peer conflicts, depression, isolation, illness, and substance abuse.

Student assistance services typically include linking students and their families to appropriate community resources and school-based support services. A positive drug test may result in referral to ongoing drug testing, educational classes, attendance in a chemical awareness group, or treatment for chemical dependency. For students who have completed treatment and who are in recovery striving to stay "clean," returning to the school environment can be a difficult experience. Student assistance eases the reentry process by offering aftercare and other support services, then stays in touch with the students to monitor their progress over time. Studies have found that students who were referred through a student assistance program to behavioral health specialists show improved attendance, fewer discipline problems, and better performance in school. For more information, contact the National Student Assistance Association (toll-free: 800-257-6310).

Conducting the Test. Just as the drug problem differs from one school to another, so do the mechanisms by which various schools conduct drug tests. You should work closely with your advisory committee and legal counsel to map out a strategy and set clear guidelines for the nuts-and-bolts operation of the testing program. Your plan should cover, in detail, every step from beginning to end, including procedures for choosing which students can be tested, when and how they are summoned to the collection area, how the tests are performed and analyzed, and what happens in the event of a positive test. Although there is no "one size fits all" approach to drug testing, there are strategies and techniques that have proven to be effective. Understanding these, and knowing how other schools have tackled some of the same issues you are facing, can be immensely valuable in helping you develop a plan for your school. Key issues, questions, and topic areas include:

  • Whom to test, and when
  • The procedure
    • Specimen collection
    • Certified labs
    • Point-of-collection urine tests
    • The confirmation test
    • Medical review officer
  • Alternative testing methods
  • Consequences of a positive test

For detailed information on each of these topics, see the ONDCP booklet " What You Need to Know About Starting a Student Drug-Testing Program ."

Pros and Cons of the Various Drug Testing Methods


Highest assurance of reliable results.

Least expensive.

Most flexibility in testing different drugs, including alcohol and nicotine.

Most likely of all drug-testing methods to withstand legal challenge.

Specimen can be adulterated, substituted, or diluted.

Limited window of detection.

Test sometimes viewed as invasive or embarrassing.

Biological hazard for specimen handling and shipping to lab.

Typically 1 to 5 days.


Longer window of detection.

Greater stability (does not deteriorate).

Can measure chronic drug use.

Convenient shipping and storage (no need to refrigerate).

Collection procedure not considered invasive or embarrassing.

More difficult to adulterate than urine.

Detects alcohol/cocaine combination use.

More expensive.

Test usually limited to basic 5-drug panel.

Cannot detect alcohol use.

Will not detect very recent drug use (1 to 7 days prior to test).

Depends on the length of hair in the sample. Hair grows about a half-inch per month, so a 1½-inch specimen would show a 3-month history.


Sample obtained under direct observation.

Minimal risk of tampering.


Samples can be collected easily in virtually any environment.

Can detect alcohol use.

Reflects recent drug use.

Drugs and drug metabolites do not remain in oral fluids as long as they do in urine.

Less efficient than other testing methods in detecting marijuana use.

Approximately 10 to 24 hours.



Variable removal date (generally 1 to 7 days).

Quick application and removal.

Longer window of detection than urine.

No sample substitution possible.

Limited number of labs able to process results.

People with skin eruptions, excessive hair, or cuts and abrasions cannot wear the patch.

Passive exposure to drugs may contaminate patch and affect results.

Patch retains evidence of drug use for at least 7 days, and can detect even low levels of drugs 2 to 5 hours after last use.