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Random Drug Testing in our Schools

Drug use amongst young people is an increasing trend, yet the public perception of the suitability / effectiveness of random drugs testing at school is relatively uncertain. Such testing takes place quite rarely in the UK, in spite of it being a more common practice in the USA. The average starting age for heroin use in many cities in the UK is just 15, and a survey of over 20,000 UK school children showed that 9% of 13 year olds and over a quarter (27%) of 15 year olds had used an illegal drug at some point in their lives. So there is clearly a need for more assertive intervention at an early age. Parents face the growing concern that their teenager may already be taking drugs, or that they are in an environment where they are exposed to those who will offer them drugs, especially Cannabis / Marijuana. The frightening reality is that this environment may be their school.

In order to learn more about drug use (and in particular Cannabis / Marijuana supply and young people), 182 young people who were Cannabis / Marijuana users aged between 11 and 19 were interviewed for a study published in January 2008 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The sample included both city dwellers and young people from rural villages. Half of the young people had taken cannabis into school or college and 43 per cent said that they used cannabis whilst at school or college. It is clear from the report that the majority of these young people purchase cannabis from their friends or relatives and in turn supply their friends in a new wave of ‘social’ and ‘not-for-profit’ drug-taking which is a departure from the typical dealer-user scenario. One young interviewee told researchers that the people who sold her Cannabis / Marijuana included ‘friends from school’ and shows how combining drug-use with normal social networking is having the effect of normalising the act of taking drugs.

However, a recent study by Neil McKeganey, Professor of Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, demonstrates that random drug testing in schools is a more complex and controversial issue than one would at first imagine. Questions arise over matters including cost, ethical issues such as what would happen in the event that a pupil tested positive for drugs and what ‘punishment’ or deterrent would be appropriate, concerns that pupils may switch from easily detectable drugs to more harmful drugs in order to avoid detection, and the probability that a trusting relationship between staff and pupil would be damaged and encourage a culture of concealment. Furthermore, it is possible that enforcing random drug testing of pupils would conflict with the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child or the European Charter on Human Rights. Whilst acknowledging the obvious need for drug prevention, it appears that further research and data collection is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of drug screening within schools. In spite of this, results from an ICM Research poll which previously appeared in the News of the World on Sunday demonstrated that 82% of parents and 66% of children support drug testing in schools and of the 1,000 parents surveyed, 96% said they would want to know if their son or daughter was taking drugs. So what can be done? In the absence of a drug-testing programme at school or college, anxious parents, guardians or caregivers who have concerns about teenagers or young people using drugs are able to conduct a drug test in the privacy of the home. These home drug test kits are used daily by professionals in the healthcare industry and one test can provide easy to read results in minutes for a variety of different drugs. This includes the most common drugs, such as Cannabis / Marijuana, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Benzodiazepines, Opiates, Methadone and Methamphetamines (including ecstasy).


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