It was 40 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper’s band began to play. Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs 35 years ago. And it was eleven years ago that the Editors of the National Review publicly declared that “…it is our judgment that the War on Drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states.”
The strategy has not changed despite the failure, and instead there have been periodic surges and escalations that have resulted in one and only one significant “accomplishment”. That accomplishment has not been to improve either the quality or quantity of successful addiction or substance abuse treatment or education programs. It has not been to reduce the availability or lethality or abuse of illicit drugs, or the violence associated directly with illegal drug traffic.
The signal unquestioned accomplishment of the War on Drugs has been that the United States of America, for the first time in history, now imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation on earth. There were over SIX TIMES as many persons, per capita, in prison custody of the state of Wisconsin in 2003 as there were in 1970, the year before the War on Drugs was officially declared.
That escalation of police and judicial pressure has not been exerted evenly across all communities in America proportionate to the amount of illicit substance abuse that occurs there. And the communities in America on which the brunt of that escalation has fallen have been shattered by it.
Why the War on Drugs has been so unjust and has failed so persistently is an important question, but is not the subject of this essay, which is that the War on Drugs is surging in Ozaukee County. And where else, but in Cedarburg High School.
An initiative has begun to implement here the latest major front in the War on Drugs – mandatory random drug testing without cause on America’s youth. For their own good. Have the schools do it. That’s both brilliant and convenient! They’re all there in one place all day. A bunch of teachers and staff are right at hand to pull off the surprise operation at a moments notice. Just call a certain number out of class at random. (Be nice and discreet about it.) Arrange for teachers or a private contractor’s ‘associates’ to supervise the collection of urine, or take snips of hair. Do the necessary custody paperwork and proper material handling. Wait for the reports to be cooked up and sent back to Administration. Procure a chemical reading on what the devil the kids tested might have been inhaling or ingesting. (Along with a sample of their DNA.)
Defend yourself against the uncertainty of tomorrow’s news. Show people you’re tough and you’re doing something. And put the fear of uncertainty and surprise discovery in the kids, for a change, instead of in the adult authorities. Hire private contractors to do the dirty work, and lawyers to fend off challenges from malcontents. Simple.
This idea didn’t originate with the Cedarburg School District School Board or Administration. It’s part of a nationwide agenda, and it’s been done before, you bet. You might guess that it’s been challenged. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 5 to 4 that random drug testing without cause of high school students engaging in competitive extracurricular activities is OK according to their interpretation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
(This is the same Supreme Court that decided 5 to 4 that your home can be taken by power of eminent domain so a private developer can make an “improvement” to the property that a municipality figures will improve its tax base. And it’s the same Supreme Court that ruled 5 to 4 that the Florida Supreme Court did not have the right to order a recount of ballots in the disputed 2000 election that disenfranchised many thousands of eligible black voters by removing them without justification from voter registration lists and by closing the polls and dispersing citizens waiting in lines to vote.)
But hold on. Just because the Supreme Court narrowly decides that something can be done, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it. (Understand that the Supremes say it’s legal to impose this random school search and seizure on kids without cause, simply because they’re kids, and they don’t have the same rights as adults.)
Despite the eagerness of some to exploit this opening and impose mandatory random drug testing on kids, I doubt that anyone thinks it’s a particularly good idea, or particularly fair, to single out only students engaging in extra-curricular competitive activities for that dubious distinction. But, is the Cedarburg School District eager to provoke a federal test case challenging that ruling and trying to push the legal envelope so every school kid can be hauled in for random drug testing without cause? Probably not. The legal costs alone might just put a crimp in the budget, and necessitate a little tax increase. There’s a limit to what taxpayers want to pay just to have a drug test policy that is a fair and equal imposition on the privacy of all students and the proper jurisdiction of the family.
Speaking of budgets, has anyone done a rigorous evaluation of the cost effectiveness of mandatory random drug testing in schools with respect to desired goals and outcomes? The School Board first needs to explicitly state the goals for such an intrusion on privacy and human and civil rights so narrowly approved by the Supreme Court. The prime goal can only be to reduce the incidence of illicit drug use by students while not detracting from overall educational objectives.
Next, the School Board must investigate carefully whether the proposed program can be expected to accomplish that goal. With all the experience of other school districts around the nation, are there any peer reviewed, credible studies in existence that have investigated this question? The answer is yes.
The first large-scale national study on student drug testing, published in the April 1, 2003 Journal of School Health, based on data collected from 1998 thru 2001 from 76,000 students nationwide, found that student drug testing did not have an impact on illicit drug use among students, including athletes.
A more extensive follow-up study conducted with an enlarged sample of schools, and an increased focus on random testing, reinforced the stark conclusions of the previous study. The authors of the study, researchers at the Univ. of Michigan, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, asked, “Does drug testing prevent or inhibit student drug use? Our data suggest that, as practiced in recent years in American secondary schools, it does not… Random testing applied to all students…and testing of athletes – did not produce encouraging results.”
These results are supported by numerous other surveys and studies that examine the effectiveness of various options for the prevention of student drug misuse, and are not contradicted by any studies of similar scale or credibility of which I am aware.
This random school drug testing policy proposal that is now on the drawing boards for the long-term future of Cedarburg High School will be examined further in part 2 of this series.