U.S. District Judge Dismisses Majority of Claims in SATURN Lawsuit

04/15/03    Portland, Ore.

Nine out of 10 claims against OHSU and school districts dismissed due to lack of legal sufficiency

A United States District judge has dismissed nine out of 10 claims made against Oregon Health & Science University and numerous Oregon school districts regarding the Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification, or SATURN, study. In addition, the judge threw out all claims against all but two of the 53 defendants named in the lawsuit filed in June 2002 by Dallas high school student Beth Wade.

In a 33-page opinion piece Judge Garr M. King dismissed claims against OHSU and the school districts for fraud, conspiracy, negligence, lack of informed consent and various constitutional-type injuries.

"We are very pleased with the decision. We feel Judge King appropriately reduced the case to a fraction of the original lawsuit," said Rob Shlachter, legal counsel representing OHSU through Stoll, Stoll, Berne, Lokting & Shlachter.

The only claim left against the two defendants, OHSU and the Dallas school district, alleges that there was no drug problem at Dallas High School and therefore requiring drug testing of student athletes was an unconstitutional search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. However, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Vernonia and Earls), and one Oregon Court of Appeals decision (Weber) have upheld drug testing as a condition of participation in high school sports or other extracurricular activity.

"We believe these claims to be false. We will continue to vigorously defend and support the integrity of the SATURN study," said Shlachter.

The judge's decision does not impact the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) decision to suspend SATURN as of Oct. 24, 2002. OHSU addressed concerns by the OHRP regarding the study, but has not received approval to resume the study.


Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification, or SATURN, is a three-year scientific study to evaluate whether the U.S. Supreme Court-upheld public school policy-allowing drug testing of student athletes has an effect on student drug use. The study is being conducted by the OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Findings from the first year of the study found that student athletes at a high school with a mandatory, random drug-testing policy reported fourfold lower illicit drug use and threefold lower performance - enhancing substance use than athletes at a control school. The results were published in the January 2003 issue of The Journal of Adolescent Health.

SATURN began in fall 2000 at 13 high schools in Oregon. The study was slated to run through the 2002-2003 school year, with results due to be published in 2004.

SATURN is the first study of its kind that seeks to answer a pivotal social policy question regarding efforts to curb teen drug use through drug testing at schools. The study's creators are certified U.S. Olympic Committee Drug Surveillance Crew Chiefs and have conducted numerous award-winning studies on teen drug use and drug use prevention. The design of the SATURN study was inspired by the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Vernonia case that made it legal for public high schools to conduct random drug testing on student athletes. Since 1995, numerous schools throughout the country have implemented drug-testing policies, but no scientific study has evaluated whether those programs deter student drug use.

After implementation of SATURN in 2000, the Oakridge School District (a SATURN participant) was sued over its drug testing policy. To date, both the Lane County Circuit Court and Oregon Court of Appeals have upheld the constitutionality of the school district's drug testing policy. SATURN's creators maintain that the study's goal is not to advocate for drug testing, but to learn if drug testing in our schools is an effective deterrent to drug use and to gauge student opinions about drug testing.