Concern over school's decision to drug test students

Concern over school's decision to drug test students

Concern over school's decision to drug test students

Updated 9 August 2012, 10:04 AEST

Civil libertarians and health experts have raised concerns over an elite Queensland private school's decision to randomly drug test its students.

The Southport School (TSS) on the Gold Coast has written to parents advising them of the new policy, aimed at eliminating weekend drug use.

There are roughly 880 secondary students at TSS and all of them have a unique identification number.

At the beginning of each term, some of those numbers will be selected at random and the corresponding students will have to present to an on-site pathologist.

They will be required to provide a urine and saliva sample for testing.

The policy was hatched by the school's headmaster, Greg Wain, who recently returned from a fact-finding tour of the United States.

"We have drug education programs and basically they work for a number of students but they don't work for all students," he said.

"The research shows that scare campaigns don't work and we were then pointed in the direction of random drug testing as a possible way to prevent boys experimenting in the first instance."

It is a daunting prospect, but Mr Wain says that is precisely the point.

"So if the boys know that we can detect it and they know they could get randomly tested, they're telling me that that's a very strong reason for them to say no, which is exactly what we want," he said.

Mr Wain says while some people may say it is none of the school's business, TSS is no ordinary school.

"If I see you or hear about you doing something on the weekend or the holidays that's putting you at jeopardy or putting at risk and affecting your health, I personally have a moral and ethical motivation to stop that," he said.

"So I'm going to get you in and I'm going to say, 'hey I'm really worried about you and I want you to stop doing this'.

"We're a community, we're like a team, I call it team TSS, and if you're on the team, this is what we expect of you and if you're on the team, we're going to really look after you."

Questions raised

But Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope says the school is acting well outside its duty of care.

"People shouldn't be subject of tests like this unless there is some suspicion that they've done something wrong," he said.

Mr Cope also questions the effectiveness of the checks.

"This sort of testing has been done in the United States for years," he said.

"A study of the results of this testing undertaken by the Australian National Council on Drugs found that the evidence is that it does not work.

"The evidence from America is that there is no difference in drug taking between schools that have testing and schools that don't.

"On top of that, the evidence is that children see it as inquisitorial and they react against it and they therefore refuse to participate in other drug education and rehabilitation programs that might be made available."

Health experts have cautiously welcomed the idea, but there are concerns drug testing companies will seek to profit from schools that embrace these kind of programs.

"We have drug testing companies around this country that are making millions, millions of dollars with now workplace drug testing and they certainly want to get into schools," Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research Training Australia said.

"It's an untapped market for them and that's my concern, when you do see an elite school doing it, that there's a suggestion that this somehow is a positive way forward and I really just don't think it is."

'For the best'

TSS says it will review the policy in 12 months time to see whether or not it has been successful.

But for now, the idea appears to have the backing of students themselves.

"Drug use and teenage drug use is a growing epidemic," Curtis McLeod said.

Mr McLeod is in his final year of study at the school.

"As a community, I think it's the school's job and our job - everyone's job - to look after everyone and make sure everyone is functioning at their best," he said.

"It's a duty of care, I think. If it's for the best of the student, I don't think there's any problem with the school, what some might call, encroaching on the weekend, if it's for the best of the students.