Student athletes subject to random drug testing at an Oregon high school were almost four times less likely to use drugs than their counterparts at a similar school who were not tested, according to a study by researchers at Oregon Health and Science University.

They compared Wahtonka High School in The Dalles, where all student athletes were subject to random testing, and Warrenton High School, a demographically similar school near Astoria, where they were not. Of the 135 athletes subject to the random testing at Wahtonka, 5.3 percent said they were using illicit drugs by the end of the school year, vs. 19.4 percent of the 141 athletes at Warrenton. They also were three times less likely to use performance-enhancing substances such as steroids, according to the survey responses, which were anonymous.

The study, conducted during the 1999-2000 school year, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an arm of the National Institutes of Health. The results are published in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study comes six months after the U.S. Supreme Court put the issue in the spotlight. In June, the court ruled that children attending public schools can be required to participate in drug testing if they join any competitive after-school activity, from football to chess.

Merry Holland, principal at Wahtonka, said the school has continued to test athletes since the study ended. She said she believed the program has helped curb drug use. But, she said, the drug testing has also led some students to switch to substances, such as beer, that are more difficult to track. "If they want to stay with sports and participate, they might switch to something they think is harder to detect," she said.