Background: Schools use a number of measures to reduce harmful tobacco, alcohol, and drug use by students. One important component is the school’s drug policy, which serves to set normative values and expectations for student behavior as well as to document procedures for dealing with drug-related incidents. There is little empirical evidence of how policy directly or indirectly influence students’ drug taking. This study compares how effectively schools communicate school drug policies to parents and students, how they are implemented, and what policy variables impact students’ drug use at school and their perceptions of other students’ drug use at school.
Methods: Data were obtained from 3876 students attending 205 schools from 2 states in the United States and Australia, countries with contrasting national drug policy frameworks. School policy data were collected from school personnel, parents, and students.
Results: Schools’ policies and enforcement procedures reflected national policy approaches. Parents and students were knowledgeable of their school’s policy orientation.
Conclusions: When delivered effectively, policy messages are associated with reduced student drug use at school. Abstinence messages and harsh penalties convey a coherent message to students. Strong harm-minimization messages are also associated with reduced drug use at school, but effects are weaker than those for abstinence messages. This smaller effect may be acceptable if, in the longer term, it leads to a reduction in harmful use and school dropout within the student population.