If you're trying to convince teenagers not to do drugs, it's going to take much more than telling them to "just say no" -- that's not effective. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, neither is subjecting them to random drug testing to check behind them. At least that's the idea the national organization of child health specialists put forth Monday in its new statement on the practice of schools administering suspicionless drug testing to their adolescent students.
The group announced it opposed the practice of random drug tests because it can hurt student-school relationships, violate kids' privacy and lead to more drug use later on. The policy statement, which came about two weeks after a different study found schools' zero-tolerance rules don't work, raised the increasingly important question of what to do about kids' drug use. Curbing adolescents' addiction to drugs is challenging, experts said, due in part to the nature of teenagers but also because of society's changing stances on drugs.
The best way to tackle it is to help kids get information from several sources, said Samantha Roll, the senior counselor in Adolescent Addiction Services at Lake Shore Behavioral Health, Inc. in Buffalo, New York. "If we say, 'Absolutely say no,' they're going to say, 'OK, I'm going to try it,'" Roll said. "It's not giving them the facts."
The issue is pervasive. More than a third of 12th graders have used marijuana in the past year, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. About 37 percent drank alcohol, and 7 percent took Adderall or Ritalin for non-medical reasons.
In all cases, parents can be one of the best resources for adolescents. If parents are taught to recognize the symptoms of addiction, they can quickly get their kids help, said Tammy Granger, corporate director of student assistance programs at Caron Treatment Centers based in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. She said schools need to have information sessions for moms and dads who might not understand the scope of the problem. "They really want to do a great job with their kids, but there's a lot of competing information out there," Granger added.
At the same time, adolescents need to know what they're dealing with. She said states' legalization of marijuana is sending some students mixed messages about the drug during a time when they're already likely feeling rebellious. If schools ask students to talk to one another about the downsides of doing drugs, they may be more likely to listen. Games and role-playing scenarios grab kids' attention better than lectures, Granger said. They need clear information about the legal and medical consequences of drugs -- spelling out "this is what happens to your body when you're using the substances," she said.
Overall, having a preventative approach to drug abuse is more effective than a reactive one, said Karen Walsh, the co-owner of Inspirations for Youth and Families rehabilitation center based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Drug testing can be part of a system to address adolescents' use but shouldn't be the only technique. "Curriculum-based prevention' is probably the buzzword that needs to be adopted," Walsh said. "The intentions are good and the knowledge is definitely there, it's just a question of how we're going to get this done."