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Effectiveness of drug education program evaluated

Division III pilot program hopes to reveal what mix of education and testing deters drug use
Dec 1, 2008 11:24:38 AM

By Jack Copeland
The NCAA News

The first year of Division III’s two-year drug education and testing pilot program suggests emerging issues that will be explored further using data currently being collected during the program’s final months.

The program is seeking to learn the impact of education – in combination with or without drug testing – on student-athletes’ use of substances ranging from anabolic steroids to street drugs. The first year of the program yielded survey responses from more than 11,000 student-athletes, and nearly 2,000 student-athletes participated in drug testing.

For various reasons, it is too early to draw conclusions from first-year findings in the pilot program, but survey and testing results suggest areas for closer scrutiny this year, said Eric Hartung, NCAA associate director of research.

“In addition to trying to understand the impact of education with and without drug testing, we also must understand patterns – both self-reported by student-athletes through surveys and indicated by drug testing – of substance use across seasons and in specific sports,” Hartung said. “The first year of data suggests variations in substance use, from season to season and in specific sports, that we need to measure further and understand better before we can fully understand the impact that education can have alone or in combination with testing.

“The primary importance of the data collected during the first year of the program is not what they reveal about substance use, but how they eventually will help us understand patterns of use, which in turn will help in making decisions about how education and/or testing can impact those patterns,” he said.

Taken together, the surveys – which were administered both at the beginning and the end of the 2007-08 academic year – and drug tests suggested at least four areas where attention will be focused during the program’s second year.

The emerging issues:

•         What levels of substance use are being self-reported by student-athletes? In the pilot program’s surveys, Division III student-athletes self-reported use of various substances that is generally consistent with use self-reported by student-athletes in previous NCAA drug use surveys. Less than 1 percent of the student-athletes surveyed in the pilot program reported using anabolic steroids during the month before a survey was administered; about 7 percent reported use of illegal street drugs.

•         Is there a consensus among student-athletes about drug testing? While more than 60 percent of Division III student-athletes participating in the pilot program indicated they would not use any substance regardless of whether testing is implemented, more than 60 percent also agreed that student-athletes should be tested either by the NCAA or by schools. About one-fifth of respondents said NCAA testing has discouraged them from using banned substances.

•         Are there differences between self-reported in-season and out-of-season substance use? Because of low self-reported use of anabolic steroids during the pilot program’s first year, it is not possible to examine differences between in-season and out-of-season use. Selected sports indicate consistent use of illegal street drugs both in-season and out-of-season, while others indicate differences in use in-season and out-of-season.

•         To what degree are self-reported substance use and testing results aligned? Testing indicated significantly higher anabolic steroid use in the spring than in the fall, but the difference likely is attributable to a lab analysis issue that has been corrected this year. Testing generally validated the surveys’ self-reported use of street drugs.

Results of the first year of the program are summarized in an interim report (the link opens a .pdf document) compiled by Nelson Consulting, LLC, which was asked by the NCAA to assess the data and list emerging issues.

The Division III membership also will hear a report about the program during the 2009 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.

The pilot program, which was authorized by the Division III Presidents Council in 2007 following a recommendation from the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, seeks to study how educational efforts change student-athletes’ perceptions about substance use at 116 participating institutions. Drug testing was conducted by the NCAA at 80 of the enrolled schools, where all student-athletes were subject to random selection.

Every participating school implemented a model education plan targeting student-athletes. The program marks the first time that the NCAA has attempted to measure the impact of its existing educational programs in deterring substance use, or how those programs interact with drug testing for that purpose.

According to Nelson Consulting’s interim report, the pilot program is addressing two primary questions:

•         What is the deterrent effect of the drug education pilot program on substance abuse?

•         What is the deterrent effect of the drug testing program when coupled with the drug education program on substance abuse?

In addition to assessing the effectiveness of the education program, results from the study will help Division III decide what steps, if any, to take in response to substance use by student-athletes.

“Substance abuse affects competitive equity, and it affects student-athlete well-being, but we don’t have enough information to allow us to determine to what extent those statements are true in Division III,” said Dan Dutcher, Division III vice president, discussing the decision to conduct the pilot program.

“We still don’t have enough information after the first year of the pilot, but the indications are that we will be in a much better position to make decisions about how to address substance use when the program concludes at the end of the 2008-09 academic year.”

Options Division III might consider at the end of the pilot program include increasing support for educational programs, helping institutions establish their own testing programs, or expanding NCAA drug testing beyond Division III championships, where it has been conducted since the late 1980s. Unlike Divisions I and II, Division III currently does not conduct drug testing throughout the academic year.

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