Let the Love Flow

Student drug testing.


According to President Bush, nothing says "I love you" like a demand for urine. Pretty kinky- sounding stuff for a State of the Union address, and more interesting than anything else he had to say that night.

Alas, the president was talking about student drug testing, which he wants to encourage with new federal funding. "The aim here is not to punish children," he explained, "but to send them this message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you."

Bush claimed "drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part" of "our aggressive community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs." But as the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union were quick to point out in a joint report, "the first large-scale national study on drug testing found no difference in rates of drug use between schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not."

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld random screening of students who participate in sports and other competitive extracurricular activities. But schools still face challenges under state constitutions, which may provide stronger privacy protections. Last fall, for instance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Delaware Valley School District's random testing of students who have parking permits or who participate in extracurricular activities.

The push for student drug testing has encountered opposition in a more surprising place. According to a new pamphlet distributed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "Drug testing of kids is a complicated issue and is best done within the context of a doctor-patient-parent relationship"—presumably because kids would rather feel love from their parents than from their coach or choir leader.

If a cup of urine seems like a strange symbol of affection, how about a lock of hair? Federal drug testing guidelines that are expected to take effect early next year will include hair testing, which can detect drug traces for up to three months, thereby nabbing even more people whose drug use has no impact on job performance. (See "Urine—Or You're Out," November 2002.) The guidelines, which apply to 1.6 million federal workers and another 5 million or so employees in regulated industries, are widely emulated by private employers.

An official with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which oversees the guidelines, told the Associated Press the aim is "to increase the deterrent value of our program, which is basically the whole bottom line." Deterrence is the bottom line? Where's the love?