Skip Navigation
Random Student Drug Testing Random Student Drug Testing ONDCP Seal Search

Overview Drug Testing Works Program Development


  1. Why conduct random drug tests?

  1. Random Student Drug Testing is foremost a prevention program. It creates a culture of disapproval toward drugs in the communities where it is employed. It achieves several public health goals: 1) it deters adolescents from initiating drug use; 2) it gives adolescents a reason to resist peer pressure to use drugs; 3) it identifies adolescents who have started using drugs so that parents and counselors can intervene early; and, 4) it helps identify adolescents who have developed a drug dependency, so they can be referred to treatment providers.


  1. Why are adolescents particularly vulnerable?

  1. Drug use can lead to a wide range of adverse effects on the brain, the body, behavior and health.

    Short term: A single dose of an intoxicating drug can result in an accident, violence, poor performance in a school or sports activity, unplanned risky behavior, and the risk of overdosing. It can also trigger the desire to use drugs again and again.

    Long term: Repeated drug use and abuse can lead to serious problems, such as loss of desire to to fulfill obligations at school, on sports teams, repeated school absences, disorderly conduct, and social or family problems caused by, or worsened by drugs.

    Repeated drug use can also lead to the disease of addiction. Studies show that the earlier an adolescent begins using drugs, the more likely he or she will be to develop a substance abuse problem or the disease of addiction. Conversely, if an adolescent does not start using drugs in their teen years, he or she is less likely to initiate or develop a substance abuse problem later in life. Research also shows that adolescents who abstain from using marijuana are twice as likely to graduate college and much less likely to engage in criminal activity than frequent or casual users.


  1. What are the benefits of drug testing?

  1. Drug use can turn to abuse and then to addiction, trapping users in a vicious cycle that ruins lives and destroys families. Drug testing has been shown to be an effective tool in preventing student drug use. The expectation that they may be randomly tested is enough to make some students stop using drugs—or never start in the first place. Drug testing is also an excellent tool for getting students who won't or can't stop the help they need to stop.

    Students who use drugs are statistically more likely to drop out of school, bring guns and knives to school, and be involved in physical attacks, property destruction, stealing, and cutting classes (SAMHSA, 2004). Drug abuse not only interferes with a student's ability to learn, it also disrupts the orderly environment necessary for all students to succeed. Obviously, reducing the likelihood of these disruptive behaviors benefits everyone involved in the educational institution.


  1. Are student drug testing programs effective at deterring use?

  1. Yes, random student drug testing is effective in deterring drug use. Most students are constantly subjected to peer pressure and bombarded with media messages from movies, music, television, and the Internet that drug use is a normal behavior, a rite of passage for teens without consequence. To the relief of teens, drug testing removes the push of peer pressure. It distributes the burden of their decision not to use drugs between them and the adults in their lives.

    According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health , a school in Oregon that randomly drug tested student-athletes had a rate of drug use that was one-quarter that of a comparable school with no drug testing policy. In another study, Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey saw significant reductions in 20 of 28 drug use categories after two years of a drug testing program; e.g., cocaine use by seniors dropped from 13 percent to 4 percent. A third study, from Ball State University , showed that 73 percent of high school principals reported a reduction in drug use among students subjected to the drug testing policy, but only 2 percent who reported an increase.


  1. Has drug testing worked in other sectors of society?

  1. Many of our Nation's businesses and institutions have implemented successful drug testing programs, including the Federal government. Since the U.S. Military began drug testing in the early 1980s, drug use among servicemen and servicewomen has plunged from 27 percent to less than 3 percent. When the Department of Transportation (DOT) implemented a mandatory drug-free workplace initiative in the interest of public safety, drug use in the transportation industry also declined. The DOT model has been implemented in many non-regulated industries as well, each of which also saw a decrease in drug use. Because of this, many Fortune 500 companies employ drug testing programs because they know it makes their workplaces safer and more productive.

    Every American who steps on an airplane or sends their kids out to the school bus in the morning rests easier knowing that pilots and bus drivers are drug tested. Drug testing saves lives. We can no longer withhold the proven benefits of drug testing from the members of society that are most vulnerable to drugs' destructive influence.


  1. How many students actually use drugs?

  1. The good news is that drug use among high schools students has dropped significantly since 2001. When the President released his National Drug Control Strategy in February 2002, he set goals of reducing teen drug use by 10 percent in two years and 25 percent in five years. In December, the 2006 Monitoring the Future study of 8 th , 10 th , and 12 th graders showed that drug use had declined by 23 percent since 2001. This translates into approximately 840,000 fewer youth using illicit drugs in 2006 than in 2001.

    Despite this marked decline, much remains to be done. Over 50 percent of 12 th graders say that they've used drugs in their lifetime, and over 10 percent of them say that they use marijuana at least monthly. Prescription drug abuse is high and is increasing. Children still face a barrage of media messages that promote drug use. Random student drug testing programs are effective prevention strategies to help adolescents refuse drugs, when offered.


  1. What is the implication of the President's mention of student drug testing in his State of the Union address?

  1. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $1.7 million in new awards for School-Based Student Drug-Testing Programs. Eleven grants were awarded to school districts to fund random student drug testing programs in 52 schools. Additionally, in 2005, fifty-five grants totaling over $7.2 million were awarded to 352 school districts. The Federally funded program provided $2 million in 2003 for eight demonstration grants

    The competitive grant program supports schools in the design and implementation of a confidential and non-punitive program to randomly screen students enrolled in the program and to intervene with assessment and referral for students whose test results are confirmed positive for illicit drugs..


  1. Does the Federal government mandate student drug testing?

  1. No. The administration recognizes drug testing as one tool that local schools can decide to use as a component of a broad drug prevention effort. Each school or school district that wants to start a program needs to involve the entire community in determining whether student drug testing is right for their specific situation.


  1. How should a school determine it has a need for student drug testing?

  1. Communities first need to explore their adolescent drug problems. This becomes the basis of developing a consensus for student drug testing. Such a need can be generated by surveys of student drug-use, reports by teachers other school staff, coaches, parents and community members, as well as the discovery of drug paraphernalia and drug residues at school.


  1. If a school wants to start a drug testing program, how can the program be funded?

  1. Many schools already receive federal money from the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program run through the Department of Education. Student drug testing programs have been congressionally authorized as an acceptable use of Safe and Drug-Free Schools money.

    Some schools have been successful at receiving both financial and technical support from local charitable foundations, law enforcement, or health professionals. For example, high schools in Calabasas , California have their drug tests performed free of charge by the local hospital. T he cost of a drug test is minimal compared with the cost of athletic equipment purchased to keep a student safe from physical injury, and much less than the cost of drug-induced accidents or other consequences.


  1. How can schools determine if there is a need for a drug testing program?

  1. Communities first need to explore their drug problems. This becomes the basis of developing a consensus for student drug testing. Schools must first determine whether there is a need for testing. Such a need can be determined from student drug-use surveys, reports by teachers and other school staff about student drug use, reports about drug use from parents and others in the community, and from discoveries of drug paraphernalia, drugs, or residues at school.


  1. Who should be involved in the decision-making process of implementing a student drug testing program?

  1. The decision of whether to implement a drug-testing program should involve parents, schools, and the local community. It should not be the decision of one individual, or even limited to a school board. Schools considering testing will want public support from community members who are interested in reducing student drug use. Early in their deliberations, schools should also consult with an attorney familiar with laws regarding student drug testing. By making the effort to include everyone in the process, a school can greatly increase the likelihood of adopting a successful testing program.


  1. Is student drug testing a stand-alone solution, or do schools need other programs to prevent and reduce drug use?

  1. Drug testing should never be undertaken as a stand-alone response to the drug problem. Rather, it should be a component of broader prevention, intervention and treatment programs, with the common goal of reducing students' use of illegal drugs.


  1. If a student tests positive for drugs, should that student face disciplinary consequences?

  1. The primary purpose of drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs but to prevent drug dependence and to help drug-dependent students become drug-free. The results of a positive drug test should be used to intervene with students who are not yet dependent, through counseling and follow-up testing. For students that are diagnosed with addiction, parents and a school administrator can refer them to effective drug treatment programs, to begin the recovery process.


  1. When a student tests positive, are schools responsible for paying for drug treatment?

  1. No. The drug test can be viewed in the same way as school-based screening for visual impairment or for scoliosis. However, well-crafted drug testing programs will incorporate qualified health and drug treatment professionals to aid in assessing students who test positive. Some parents may be unable to accept their child's use, or not know how to help their child. It is important that schools have reference guides and referrals available to help educate parents on the problem and help them choose how to intervene or how to get their child needed professional treatment.


  1. Is drug testing a violation of an adolescent's privacy rights?

  1. This objection usually stems from a misunderstanding of the purpose of student drug testing. Foremost, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that student drug testing can be done, but must be done confidentially. Schools have a responsibility to respect students' privacy, so it is vital that only the people who need to know the test results see them—parents and a school administrator, for example. The results should not be shared with anyone else, not even teachers. The purpose is not to expose and punish children for drug use, but to deter use, intervene early with those who have just begun to use, and to provide professional help to those who have become dependent.

    An appropriate comparison is screening for other public health problems. Most parents and students are not concerned about privacy rights when schools require tests for infectious diseases. When concerned citizens realize drug dependence is a disease of the brain that spreads through non-addictive users, their privacy objections usually dissipate.


  1. What have the courts said?

  1. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4 in Pottawatomie County v. Earls , the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.

    The courts have ruled that students do not have the same privacy rights as adults. In addition, extracurricular activities are elective, and students who choose to participate in them know that being drug-tested is part of the choice they make when they join an after-school program.


  1. Just because the U.S. Supreme Court said student drug testing for adolescents in competitive extracurricular activities is constitutional, does that mean it is legal in my city or state?

  1. When an individual school or school district is interested in adopting a student drug testing program they should seek legal expertise so that it complies with all federal, state, and local laws. Individual state constitutions may dictate different legal thresholds for allowing student drug testing. Communities interested in starting student drug testing programs should become familiar with the law in their respective states to ensure proper compliance.


  1. Won't student drug testing create a climate of distrust between children and their teachers and school administrators?

  1. As children enter the confusing years of adolescence, they are looking to adults to set the boundaries and rules that will help guide and protect them. When drug use among young people reached a low point in the early 1990s, it was a direct result of the culture of disapproval toward drugs that had permeated American society. Children knew that adults disapproved of drugs and that solid rules had been established against their use. As society's focus on drugs and commitment to prevention ebbed in subsequent years, adolescents also observed this trend and drug use increased again.

    Drug testing sets a standard for students in schools where it is employed. Students know that when their teachers and administrators tell them not to use drugs that this is a serious request, so important that they have created a program to make sure the school is living up to this standard. High school math students accept their teachers' pop quiz and know it is an important component to learning. In the same way, drug testing can become another aspect of student life. Generally, most students will seek to rise to the standards set by schools and communities. This has been the case in schools which have implemented well-crafted drug testing programs.


  1. What about the conclusions of the University of Michigan study, that said student drug testing doesn't deter use?

  1. Following its release, numerous misleading press reports stated that this particular University of Michigan study examined schools with 'random drug screening programs' and reportedly found drug use rates similar to schools without such tests. There were several problems with this study: First, the s tudy's analysis did not compare schools with 'random drug screening programs' to schools that lack them. Instead, the study consisted of sending letters to administrators in 722 schools and asking them whether they had tested any students for drugs in the last year for any reason. Only 18 percent responded that they had. Over 75 percent of these respondents had not done random testing but testing "for cause" testing. For cause assumes that someone can detect whether a person is using drugs, an entirely different matter than random testing, which is a from of prevention. For cause testing does not produce the deterring effect of random testing. Second, of the remaining 25 percent, only a very small number had instituted random drug testing programs, thereby diluting the results by the overwhelming majority of results from schools with "for cause" testing. Third, studies of individual schools with bona fide random drug testing have shown that such programs are effective at deterring use.

    Finally, Lloyd Johnston , the principal author of the Michigan study said: "One could imagine situations where drug testing could be effective.... That is, testing most kids and doing it frequently.... We're not in a position to say that it wouldn't work...."

    Equally significant were his comments that: "I have no doubt that one could design a drug testing program that could deter teen drug use...."


  1. Involvement in extracurricular programs is touted as a good way to keep students from using drugs. Won't drug testing drive students out of these beneficial extracurricular programs, or deter them from joining in the first place?

  1. A well-implemented testing program is created to assist students, not to punish them. It promotes prevention by reinforcing the school policy that drug use is not acceptable. It provides students with a "built-in" excuse to refuse drugs and, offers an opportunity for counseling those with a positive test (or get them into drug treatment, if necessary). Students who test positive should be allowed to participate in their extracurricular programs when they demonstrate that they are taking steps to remain drug-free.

    Schools should not be expected to become enablers of a student's drug use. To allow a potentially drug-using student to join activities that the student finds desirable (sports, chorus, band, drama, driving to school, etc.) with no penalty is a disservice to that student and enables their drug using behavior. A more positive message is to offer a student a choice between activities they love or the lifestyle of a drug user.

    Students will face this choice in the next phase of their life. When they seek to enter the workforce or the military, they will likely have to face the same choice between using drugs or achieving their goals. How much better it is to face that choice in the benign atmosphere of high school.

    Finally, if a student is at risk for drug use and turns away from sports or other activities that their friends are engaged in, they will likely encounter peer pressure from their friends to stop using drugs and join them in the activity. The existence of a testing program gives them a strong incentive to stay drug-free, protects them and other non-using students, by not allowing an active drug user in their midst.


  1. What testing methods are available?

  1. There are several testing methods available including urine, hair, oral fluids, and sweat (patch). These methods vary in cost, reliability, drugs detected, and detection period. Schools should determine their needs and choose the method that best suits their requirements, as long as the testing kits are from a reliable source.


  1. Which drugs can and should be tested for?

  1. Various testing methods normally test for a "panel" of drugs. Typically, a drug panel tests for marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, and PCP. If a school has a particular problem with other drugs, such as MDMA, GHB, or steroids, they can include testing for these drugs.


  1. What about alcohol?

  1. Research and experience have shown that when usage rates for drugs decrease, usage rates for alcohol and cigarettes also decline. Alcohol is a serious problem among young people, and schools may want to test students for its use. However, alcohol does not remain in the blood long enough for most tests to detect recent use. Breathalyzers and oral fluid tests can detect current use, and can be used to measure impairment. But the argument that you can't test for weekend alcohol use should have no impact on whether or not a school tests for drugs. If there is an effective way to reduce use of a wide variety of harmful substances, how does the inability to effectively test for one harmful substance negate the benefit of reducing the use and subsequent harm of many others? Adolescents with substance abuse problems are often polydrug users—identifying a drug problem may also uncover an alcohol problem. Again, individual communities need to weigh the options and choose strategies and programs that are most suitable for their local substance abuse problems.


  1. How accurate are drug tests? Is there a possibility a test could give a false positive?

  1. Screening tests are very accurate but not 100 percent accurate, so every positive screen should be followed by a laboratory-based test to confirm (or refute) the results. Other sectors of society face this same issue and Federal guidelines are in place to ensure accuracy and fairness in drug testing programs.


  1. Can students "beat" the tests?

  1. Many drug-using students are aware of techniques that supposedly detoxify their systems or mask their drug use. Popular magazines and Internet sites give advice on how to dilute urine samples, and there are even companies that sell clean urine or products designed to distort test results. A number of techniques and products are focused on urine tests for marijuana, but masking products increasingly are becoming available for tests of hair, oral fluids, and multiple drugs.

    Most of these products do not work, are very costly, are easily identified in the testing process and need to be on hand constantly, because of the very nature of random testing. Moreover, even if the specific drug is successfully masked, the product itself can be detected, in which case the student using it would become an obvious candidate for additional screening and attention.


  1. How much does drug testing cost?

  1. The price of drug testing varies according to the type of test and the drugs involved, but generally the costs range between $10 and $30 per test.


  1. What resources are available to help schools learn more about student drug testing?

  1. ONDCP has a website on how to start a random student drug testing program in schools . It also has produced a guide called "What You Need to Know about Drug Testing in Schools." Community leaders and school administrators can download or order copies through the ONDCP Web site at In addition, schools may want to contact administrators from schools districts that have already implemented successful programs.