Drug-testing whack-a-mole

photo from http://agrlv.com/

Over the past couple years, and especially with the growing popularity of vaping devices, concerns about yeshiva students and substance abuse has become and increasingly prevalent challenge. In particular, as marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized in many states across the USA and addictive prescription medications continue to be abundant, access and addiction to the mind-altering substances seems to be increasing. It is not surprising that students who begin yeshiva in Israel struggling with substance abuse often continue having these struggles throughout the year, which can be destructive for their health, and make their year in yeshiva–which should be one filled with learning and spiritual growth–extremely unproductive.

One way that yeshiva try to manage the substance abuse in their institutions is through drug-testing, and holding students accountable (either through expulsion or some other disciplinary action) for failing drug tests. The question of whether this method is effective in detecting substance use is an important one to address, but I want to focus on a less-considered aspect of drug testing that I often speak about with teachers and parents.

Most forms of standard drug tests used by yeshivas to detect substances that remain in the system for days, or even weeks, such as marijuana. This makes sense as marijuana is among the most commonly used substances (other than alcohol), and it can be important for students to have the sense of accountability associated with being tested. However, some students who want to avoid being kicked out may choose to experiment with heavier, more dangerous drugs that leave the system faster or are not part of the standard drug testing panel.

In such cases, the good intent of reducing marijuana use–which is a positive goal–is offset by the dangers of pushing students to use more harmful drugs. In some ways, the focus on marijuana helps set off an unproductive game of substance abuse whack-a-mole, which may end up causing more harm than good. Drug-testing may be a necessary part of a school’s strategy to reduce or eliminate substance abuse, but teachers, administrators, and parents should recognize that testing can only be a part of the solution, and other strategies are necessary as well.