IDPC Briefing Paper - Jar wars: the question of schools-based drug testing

27 April 2010

In many parts of the world, the use of controlled drugs by school children is disturbingly common. One preventative technique developed in order to respond to drug use amongst young people is schools-based drug testing. Although its use has increased over the last couple of decades, it remains a controversial technique, both in terms of its ethical status and its effectiveness.

Advocates believe that it makes an important contribution to drug use prevention amongst youth, who are considered an especially vulnerable section of the general population. They argue that schools-based drug testing is a tool that can stem initial experimentation with drugs and subsequent recruitment into the cultures that have clustered around their consumption. Opponents of the tactic, meanwhile, argue that it is unreliable and ineffective, and may even have harmful consequences, alienating the very population whose health and security it aims to enhance.

This briefing paper examines the use of schools-based drug testing, analysing its underlying assumptions, its ethical dimensions and the research so far conducted into its practical application. It explores whether this tactic should have in prevention and harm reduction strategies.