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Defending access to education and student privacy

The Issue

According to the School Health Policies and Practices Survey conducted by the CDC, 8.6% of middle schools and 26.6% of high school districts in the US conduct drug testing on students. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4 in Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.

Student drug testing leads to punitive sanctions such as suspension or expulsion, and rarely results in provision of positive interventions such as strengthening of social bonds or access to evidence-based treatment, if needed.  

SSDP’s Position

SSDP opposes student drug testing because it is ineffective, counterproductive, expensive, and invasive. Though intended to reduce student drug use, the science tells us that drug testing simply does not work[1]. Not only does drug testing not reduce the rates of drug use, in some cases, it seems to lead to students using drugs with higher risk profiles but shorter detection windows[2].

Schools have a responsibility to create a safe learning environment for students, not one where participation in extracurricular activities could lead to punishments or sanctions with lifelong consequences. The most effective tools to prevent, delay, or reduce drug use are social connection, extracurricular engagement, and educational stability and potential. Drug testing in schools is not just ineffective but insidious: students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to use drugs and less likely to successfully complete their education, those who are using drugs will be disinclined to participate in extracurricular activity, and those who are undeterred from drug use will use drugs which are less likely to appear on tests but are more likely to result in permanent brain injury or sudden death.

Concerns about invasiveness and rights violations are self-evident. Forcing a student to urinate into a cup while a school official listens outside the stall undermines civics lessons on the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, schools should not be in the business of subjecting already young people to such a humiliating processes. As with most prohibition law enforcement, this breach of dignity can lead to a breakdown in trust between students and administrators.

Talking Points

Just Say “No” to Student Drug Testing

Drug testing is ineffective, counterproductive, expensive, and invasive.

Strategies for Change

This is a grassroots guide to educating your chapter, community, and legislators about the harms caused by student drug testing and the need for evidence-based approaches to drug misuse among students. More and more high schools are implementing drug testing. We cannot sit back and say “Thank goodness I’m not in high school anymore!” We have to be vigilant community members as a growing number of high schools are considering drug testing students. Please consider this as a reference and plausible strategy for your chapter, not a one size fits all guide. Your SSDP team member will gladly work with you to develop a campaign plan for your chapter and address your community’s specific needs.

Campaign Plan

Devote A Chapter Meeting to Educate Chapter Members about Drug Testing’s Impact on Student Rights and Privacy.

Understand the Media and Write a Letter to the Editor (LTE) about Student Rights and Privacy.

One way to raise awareness is to write a LTE. The Media Awareness Project (MAP Inc) is a clearinghouse for LTE’s about the Drug War. It is user-friendly and offers savvy LTE writing tips.

Tips to Getting Published: Use the SSDP Resources on LTEs!

Invite an Expert to Your Campus

If your chapter plans on passing a student government resolution or lobbying the university administration on this issue, build support and awareness on campus by inviting a speaker to your campus. Check out SSDP’s tips on doing so!

Persuade your Student Government to Pass a Resolution Condemning Drug Testing.

More than 110 student governments at the university level have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of the Higher Education Act Drug Provision. Those resolutions are a timeless way to express student support for repeal to community members, media and legislators.

How to Lobby your Student Government and Faculty Government:

Lobby Your State Senator or Representative to Introduce a Bill to Prohibit Suspicionless Drug Testing.

State legislators often use other state laws as model legislation. Encourage your State Senator and/or Representative to introduce a bill similar to California SB 1386, a bill that prohibits suspicionless drug testing and includes provisions designed to protect a student’s right to privacy.

[1] Sznitman SR, Romer D.  Student drug testing and positive school climates: testing the relation between two school characteristics and drug use behavior in a longitudinal study. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014 Jan;75(1):65-73.

[2] Terry-McElrath YM, O'Malley PM, Johnston LD. Middle and high school drug testing and student illicit drug use: a national study 1998-2011. J Adolesc Health. 2013 Jun;52(6):707-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.11.020. Epub 2013 Feb 11.


[4] Yamaguchi, Ryoko; Johnston, Lloyd D.; and O’Malley, Patrick M., "Drug Testing in Schools: Policies, Practices, and Association With Student Drug Use," Institute for Social Research (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan, 2003), p. 1. - See more at:


[6] Terry-McElrath YM, O'Malley PM, Johnston LD. Middle and high school drug testing and student illicit drug use: a national study 1998-2011. J Adolesc Health. 2013 Jun;52(6):707-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.11.020. Epub 2013 Feb 11.