OHSU Offers Changes in Drug Test Study

SSKRP Attorneys in the News

By JULIA SILVERMAN, Associated Press Writer

Oregon Health & Sciences University is offering to make changes in its study aimed at determining whether random drug tests discourage drug use among high school athletes.

The offer comes about six weeks after the study was suspended following a federal investigation by the Office of Human Research Protection, which concluded that the program violated a number of government regulations, including protecting research subjects from coercive environments.

Thirteen school districts in Western Oregon were tapped for participation in the study, which is funded by the National Institute of Health; seven of those were conducting random drug testing and the six others serve as a control group.

In a letter sent to the federal agency on Tuesday, OHSU offers to discontinue its direct involvement in the collection of urine specimens to be tested for traces of drugs.

"We realize that that is one of those factors that can lead to confusion about where the study ends, and the schools policy begins," said Martin Munguia, an OHSU spokesman. "We will be teaching school personnel how to do it, and have them do all the drug testing."

OHSU has also offered to destroy all drug test results in the possession of researchers for the $3.6 million study, known as Saturn, or Student Athletic Testing Using Random Notification. Instead, school districts will receive the drug test results directly.

That was difficult in the past, Munguia said, because participating schools did not always have secure fax machines, potentially allowing passer-bys to see results of the drug tests. Participating schools have agreed to purchase new machines, or move old ones to secure locations for the duration of the study, he said.

OHSU also offered to reimburse schools only for administrative time spent on the study, not for participation.

The federal agency had reported a number of concerns, including that open classroom distribution of research surveys did not protect students from peer pressure, that school personnel were not fully trained by researchers and that money and other incentives provided by the project may have contributed to a coercive environment.

A lawsuit filed June 28 in U.S. District Court in Oregon also alleges that thousands of high school students were forced to take part in the study and suffered "psychological, social and economic harm" as a result.

The three-year study, which was suspended in its third year, is designed to determine how widespread drug and alcohol use is among high school students, and whether random testing reduces it.

Munguia said that if the Saturn study is permanently shut down, researchers will compile the two years of data already collected.

In its letter to the federal research agency, OHSU said it "did not believe there was an atmosphere of coercion in the schools," and disputed the federal agency's contention that the goals of mandatory drug test of student athletes and the scientific aims of the study were indistinguishable.

"They are clearly different goals," Munguia said. "Drug testing at the schools is designed to curb drug use, and the study is to find out whether that drug testing is effective."

Officials at the Rockville, Md.-based Office for Human Research Protection could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Astoria High School Principal Larry Lockett, whose school was one of the 13 participating in the study, said he could not comment on the concessions until the legal questions surrounding the study have been resolved.