Should drug test be mandatory in high school or college sports?

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Drug use is an alarming problem affecting high school and college students for it can lead to drug abuse, or worse, long-term drug addiction. Drug abuse and addiction, in turn, can result in behavioral and academic problems, increased violence, loss of employment, and health care issues, including depression and other forms of mental illnesses (Tunzi). Because of the harms of drug abuse and addiction, drug testing is good for students and their families, as well as schools, a reason that can justify mandatory testing. It is often applied to student athletes who are prone to doping practices (Ellis). Requiring drug testing has its downsides, however, which are high costs, and, when used as punishment alone, it cannot effectively deter drug abuse and can even lead to negative impacts on college enrollment and future employment. I believe drug testing should only be mandatory for student athletes who have been found using or abusing drugs, in order to reduce the costs of drug tests for schools and to help them focus resources on those who are actual drug users. Students should be drug tested because they are at-risk for injuries and harming others.

Applying drug testing to all student athletes can be costly for schools, especially when federal or state governments would not fund these programs. Some schools do not approve of drug testing athletes because of the costs involved. Robert A. Stinchcomb, Athletic Director of Darlington School in Georgia, reported the results of the survey from National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The survey noted that 45% of these participating high schools cited budgetary constraints as the top reason why their districts did not have drug-testing programs (43). The estimated costs of mandatory drug tests for 700 student athletes, plus follow-up on at least 10% of them, can reach $88,000 every year (Stinchcomb 43). These figures are collected in 2008, so drug test costs have risen for the past eight years too (Stinchcomb 43). With limited financial resources, the last thing that schools need is to reduce the budget for education and transfer it to expensive drug testing. The next concern is the negative consequences of a punitive drug-testing program on the student’s academic and livelihood prospects.

People who are against drug testing students argue that it can be used as a form of punishment, which is not only ineffective in preventing drug use, but may also give rise to stigma that can hinder college and employment opportunities. Porsia Tunzi of the National Catholic Reporter, reported that mandatory drug testing may be used to merely punish students, and this approach is not always effective in deterring future drug use or abuse. Students who tested positive may feel humiliated and engage in drugs even more. Furthermore, President of the policy organization, Drug Strategies, Mathea Falco is concerned that compulsory drug testing can have far-reaching drawbacks. A positive drug result can decrease college opportunities for students (Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly 3). A record of drug use can likewise present employment problems. Some companies do not want to hire or promote people who have tested positive in drug use, for instance. Despite these concerns, drug testing advocates believe it can deter drug use if the program emphasizes treatment, not punishment.

Drug testing can discourage drug use through relevant treatment and not punish young users. Richard R. Ellis of the Medical Laboratory Observer explains that the school drug-testing program is confidential because the main goal is to recognize drug problems and promptly intervene for the sake of the student’s health. Principal Greg Harkness of Rockhurst High School agrees that mandatory drug tests should not “police” students but support “holistic health” (Tunzi). Their program does not impose disciplinarian measures for drug users and offer counseling and treatment instead. Moreover, as a drug-use deterrent, drug test results remain private and provided only to the student, his/her parents, and the healthcare professional who will help him/her stop using drugs (Ellis). These results are not used to expel students or to discriminate against them in any way too (Ellis). These students need social support and professional medical intervention to help them stay away from drugs, not a bad record or experiences that will produce school admission or employment problems in the long-term. Furthermore, optional drug tests can be an effective deterrent to drug use. George Elder, vice president of Psychemedics, a drug-and-alcohol hair-testing organization, argues that, when students think they will be drug tested, they will be less inclined to do drugs (Tunzi). A health-centered, socially-supportive program that follows positive drug results reduces the possible negative effects of compulsory drug testing. The costs of drug testing can be contained as well.

The program’s long-run costs can come from state or federal funds, or other school-initiated sources. Some government funds can be used to support drug testing programs for student athletes. In the absence of these funds, or if they are too limited, schools can pursue other financing options. Ellis explains that they keep costs low through using regular equipment and maximizing lab staff. The school has sponsors from hospitals and community groups too (Ellis). In addition, only athletes who have been found using drugs will be tested, not the entire school and not even the whole athlete population, so the costs are lower. Limiting the number of students to be tested can significantly diminish the cost of a mandatory drug testing program.

Drug testing should be compulsory for high school or college athletes who have been found using drugs because of its constitutionality and early intervention can stop them from harming themselves and others. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional for schools to conduct random drug tests on student athletes. Schools can legally impose drug testing on their athletes, particularly since the main goal is to provide early intervention, not punishment (Ellis). Drug abuse and addiction must also be identified early because it can cause harmful sports performance and behavioral problems. An athlete who takes drugs may not perform athletic actions properly and harm himself/herself during practice or competition. Furthermore, drug abuse and addiction can produce behavioral changes, including increased violence and risk-taking. Athletes may get too aggressive and hurt others, as well as take poorly calculated risks when competing. Either way, they pose harm to themselves and others. Mandatory drug testing can prevent these occurrences if drug use is identified early and if relevant treatment programs are applied.

Drug test must be mandatory in high school or college sports for those who have been found using drugs to reduce costs and to help them access early healthcare intervention. A program like this is not or should not be designed to punish and stigmatize students at all. Through keeping results private and providing supportive treatments, schools and parents can help prevent young drug users from turning into adult addicts. Students, schools and communities will benefit from a compulsory drug testing program because young drug users can get early healthcare treatment and other supportive interventions, which will support their long-term development as athletes, students, and healthy, productive citizens of society. When their future and are lives are at stake, funding a mandatory drug testing program does not seem a heavy cost, but a community initiative for a better future for all.

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  1. Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly. “School Drug Testing Grants Raise Question about Role of Intervention.” Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, vol. 18, no. 42, 30 Oct. 2006, pp. 1, 2-4.
  2. Ellis, Richard R. “Voluntary Drug Testing for High School Students.” Medical Laboratory Observer, vol. 23, no. 3, Mar. 1991, p. 29.
  3. Stinchcomb, Robert A. “Drug Testing in the World of Interscholastic Athletics.” Coach Ad, Oct. 2008, pp. 39-45.
  4. Tunzi, Porsia. “High School’s Drug Testing Aims to Promote Wellness.” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 49, no. 12, 29 Mar. 2013, p. 1a.
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