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Drug Testing in Schools: Pros & Cons

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  • 0:04 Understanding Addiction
  • 0:47 Disease Model
  • 1:46 Harm Reduction Model
  • 2:42 Community Connection Model
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the key arguments of both opponents and proponents of drug testing in schools. We'll also look the different models of drug addiction that impact why the schools might think they need to test students.

Understanding Addiction

In order to look at the pros and cons of drug testing in schools, we must first consider beliefs about the nature of addiction. For years it was widely believed that the potential for addiction was an inherent and unavoidable property of the drugs themselves. The addictive properties of drugs were believed to be within the drugs rather than in the circumstances of the person using the drugs.

The view that addiction is a property of the drug leads to emphasis on the addicted people as having some moral failure, further highlighted by the view that abstinence from any use and surrender to a higher power were the only salvation from the affliction. Many treatment programs still hold these views as is evident in their processes and protocols. Research on addiction forces us to reexamine our attitudes around the issue and really think about why a school would want to test students.

Disease Model

In efforts to correct this view, the disease model places addiction closer to a medical or health problem. This served to reduce the stigma facing addicted people by showing that someone with this problem should not be judged as inferior. The disease model also advocates for complete abstinence as a means of getting relief from this incurable, deadly affliction. This model focuses on the individual weakness and propensity for use: legal use is still use, and an addict cannot ever be free without abstaining. This view makes the idea of drug testing seem valid.

Proponents of drug testing in schools are generally operating on the disease model view that only complete abstinence can truly help someone. Also, the resulting criminal penalties of positive testing tend to have the opposite intended effect of reducing risk of use. While the medical view of addiction helps make those suffering less culpable for their weakness, those who want to use can always beat the test. Forcing someone to submit to a urinalysis helps proponents of the disease model feel they are doing something to stop the spread of an epidemic.

Harm Reduction Model

In contrast, the harm reduction model attempts to wean the addicted person off the illegal drugs by replacing street drugs with safer legal medicine as an alternative. The harm reduction model looks at the societal factors that increase the chances that drug use could become a problem, including harsh punishments in the criminal justice system. Harm reduction recognizes that 'use' and 'abuse' are not the same and that abstinence may not be realistic, especially in cases when the drug of choice has a potentially deadly withdrawal period.

In the harm reduction model, the idea of testing becomes a problem in that this perspective usually focuses on the civil liberties of someone who may be addicted. The tests could only serve to highlight the use as a criminal matter and increase the chance that a casual user becomes an addicted user. To the harm reductionist, offering all students help and allowing the students to volunteer for services would be a preferred path. The harm of spending valuable and scarce school resources on drug testing that has little to no effect on reducing use in teens is more than its worth.

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