Random drug and alcohol testing does not reliably keep student-athletes from using. In fact, the mere presence of drug testing increases some risk factors for future substance use, Oregon Health & Science University researchers report. The findings are published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, the journal of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
The study, named SATURN (Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification), is the first-ever randomized clinical trial to assess the deterrent effects of drug and alcohol testing among high school athletes.
"Prior to this study, there was little research and no randomized trials to establish whether student-athlete drug and alcohol testing is an effective deterrent," said Linn Goldberg, M.D., principal investigator, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.
"As a result of this study, drug testing is better understood. Although drug testing did not appear to reduce school sport participation as some had suggested it would, it did not reduce past 30-day drug or a combination of drug and alcohol use, and only intermittently lowered past year use. Armed with this information, parents, schools and policy-makers now can make evidence-based, cost-effective decisions about how best to protect the health and well-being of young athletes."
"This was a state-of-the-art collection and testing program that exceeded those of typical school testing programs. If this did not show significant deterrent effects, less-sophisticated programs are not likely to be more successful," said Diane Elliot, M.D., co-investigator and certified doping control officer for the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
The two-year study was conducted in 11 high schools within 150 miles of Portland, Ore. Participating schools were randomly assigned to one of two study groups: schools that designed and implemented a drug and alcohol testing policy; and schools that had designed a policy but agreed to defer their policy drug testing until the study had concluded .
Athletes at drug and alcohol testing schools were at risk for random testing throughout the academic year. If an athlete tested positive for drug use, the results were reported to parents or guardians, and counseling was mandatory. Before the study began, voluntary consents were obtained from students and parents so that students could complete confidential questionnaires at the beginning and end of each school year. The questionnaires asked about alcohol and drug use and student attitudes about drug testing.
After two complete years, with surveys collected five times, the researchers found that drug and alcohol use during the month leading up to the test did not differ among student-athletes at schools with drug and alcohol testing and those with no drug and alcohol testing at any time point. Ironically, they found athletes at schools with drug and alcohol testing felt less athletically competent, perceived school authorities were less opposed to drug use, and believed less in the benefits of drug testing.
The researchers conclude that because some predictors of drug and alcohol use increased, and past one-month use did not change with random testing, more research should be done to examine the policy of drug and alcohol testing.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, funded the study. David MacKinnon, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, served as independent study analyst.