Driven to Drink

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A pilot study of high schools in Oregon indicates that random testing of student athletes can lead to a sharp decrease in illegal drug use. About 5 percent of athletes at Wahtonka High School, which does random testing, said they were using illegal drugs at the end of the 1999-2000 school year, compared to 19 percent of athletes at an otherwise similar school that did not have testing. The rates for nonathletes at the two schools were 32 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

It's not surprising that random testing would have a deterrent effect, although self-reports may exaggerate its impact. Athletes who know that drug use can get them thrown off their team presumably would be less likely to admit it, even in a survey described as confidential. More important, they may simply switch to intoxicants not covered by the tests. "There are a lot of parties with alcohol," Wahtonka's principal told A.P. "If they want to stay with sports, and participate, they might switch to something that is harder to detect."

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