January 22, 2003 2 min read

Drug Testing

Results from a study of high school drug-testing provide evidence that random testing of student athletes can significantly reduce drug use.

The analysis, “Drug Testing Athletes to Prevent Substance Abuse: Background and Pilot Study Results of the SATURN Study,” published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is available from ScienceDirect.

The pilot study was conducted by researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., at two public high schools in the 1999- 2000 school year. They found that athletes at the high school with mandatory, random drug testing reported drug use at a rate only about one-fourth of that at the other school.

Of the 135 athletes subject to random testing at Wahtonka High School in The Dalles, Ore., 5.3 percent said they were using illegal drugs, according to confidential survey responses. That proportion compared with 19.4 percent of the 141 athletes surveyed at Warrenton High School. Warrenton High, a school with like demographics near Astoria, did not do such testing.

Student athletes subject to random drug tests also were only one-third as likely to use performance-enhancing substances such as steroids.

The study also found that though reported drug use was down at Wahtonka High, their attitudes toward drug use were less negative than students at Warrenton High. Athletes who were tested viewed drug use as less risky, and believed a large number of students at their school were using drugs.

Linn Goldberg, the study’s coordinator, said those findings could mean that the athletes reasoned that because their school had adopted a drug- testing policy, many of their classmates must be using drugs. But if the athletes didn’t observe any harmful effects in other students, Mr. Goldberg said, they perhaps assumed drug use was not risky.

Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the study is part of the Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification study. The three-year study began in the 2000-01 school year at 13 public high schools in Oregon that were divided between schools where athletes were tested for drug use and those where they were not.

Now in its final year, the study was suspended by the federal Office for Human Research Protection in October. The agency said researchers did not get the proper consent from students, and expressed concerns about the researchers’ involvement in the testing procedure.

After making changes, the researchers are waiting to see if the study is reinstated. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled public school students in any competitive after- school activity could face mandatory drug testing.

—John Gehring