• 02-14-2008: The Vancouver Sun

    American Kit Tests for Use of Prescription Drugs
    Worried Parents the Most Likely Market, but First They’ll Have to Get 80 Strands of Kid’s Hair
    By
    AMY O’BRIAN, VANCOUVER SUN 

     

    As if it isn’t enough for parents to worry about whether their teenager is using marijuana, cocaine or crystal meth, a new drug-testing kit presents parents with the option of testing their children for prescription-drug use, too.

    With a quick snip of a clump of hair, parents can find out within days whether a child has dipped into the family medicine cabinet, has tried cocaine in the past three months, uses crystal meth on the weekends, or is taking painkillers on a daily basis.

    “Prescription drugs are so accessible to kids. They’re in the medicine cabinet, so they don’t really think it’s dangerous for them,” said Zeynep Ilgaz, president and co-founder of Confirm BioSciences, the California-based maker of the home drug-testing kits.

    “Kids think it’s a safe way to get high because they’re not illegal.”

    Ilgaz said prescription-drug abuse, particularly of OxyContin and Vicodin, is on the rise in the United States.

    There are few Canadian statistics on the number of people who abuse prescription drugs. But the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says available evidence suggests Canadians are among the heaviest consumers of psychotropic medication in the world. And a recent study found indications that non-medicinal use of prescription opioids is increasingly replacing heroin.

    The drug-testing kit tests hair for seven illicit drugs and five prescription drugs, including Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet and Dilaudid. The company requires 80 to 100 strands of hair for the test, which will show how much of each drug has been consumed by the person in the past three months.

    “We want it to be cut as close to the root as possible, definitely not pulled out. That would definitely hurt.”

    A version of the test that did not include prescription drugs was made available in Canada in late 2007. The new version, called HairConfirm, was made available in Canada in December, and Ilgaz says it is selling well, with about 10 per cent of Canadian sales coming from B.C. Retail prices vary from about $75 to $95.

    Most of the customers are parents buying the kits to test their children, but Ilgaz said it is also being used in custody battles when one parent suspects the other of drug abuse. When Britney Spears made headlines in 2007 for impulsively shaving her head, there was speculation that it was to avoid drug testing for a custody battle with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline.

    Some parents buy the kit only to put it on the kitchen counter, as a threat of drug testing, Ilgaz said.

    The hair-test kit conjures images of parents surreptitiously yanking hairs from a sleeping teenager’s head, or pulling them from a hair brush after the child has left the house. But because the test requires more than 80 strands of hair, it makes it very difficult to gather a sample without consent.

    “We definitely don’t recommend [pulling strands from a hairbrush] for so many reasons,” Ilgaz said.

    “First of all, communication is the No. 1 thing a parent should do. A hair drug test or any drug test is not the solution to a problem. It’s just a tool to see if the kids are on drugs.

    “And from a test perspective, we do want it cut from the head. When you get it from a brush the hair on the brush is already worn out. We don’t know which part is the root end and it might be mixed up with somebody else’s hair. There are so many factors that can lead to false results.”

    Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, finds the kit worrisome because it contributes to a growing desire by parents to monitor their children at all times.

    “The whole scenario to start with is predicated on the notion that parents should not trust their children, that open, fair and frank dialogue is somehow inadequate in a familial setting,” Vonn said.

    “Certainly it’s troubling, and we’re going to see more and more of this if we fail to grapple with it now.”

    Prescription pills are not available to kids only via their parents’ medicine cabinets and through their friends. Certain painkillers are sold on the streets, with markup values of up to 7,000 per cent.

    A 1998 study in Vancouver found that one Dilaudid tablet cost 32 cents through a pharmacy, but had a street value of $32. Dilaudid is a derivative of morphine and is three times stronger than heroin.

    aobrian@vancouversun.com

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