07-31-2009: ABC AUSTRALIA
PETER CAVE: Parents who are suspicious their children are dabbling with drugs are being offered the resources to play detective.
A home drug testing kit has gone on sale in Australia this week. Parents just need a lock of their offspring's hair to be sent away for testing.
But what may also be tested are family relationships and trust. Some drug counsellors say it's the wrong type of intervention.
Rachael Brown reports.
RACHAEL BROWN: If everyone's got a book in them, Melbourne drug counsellor Richard Smith has at least five.
RICHARD SMITH: I started off my life as a motor mechanic and then I became a businessman that loved drugs, and then I became a drug dealer, drug smuggler, gun runner, bank robber, prisoner.
Then I went into the profession I'm in now where I'm a professional drug and alcohol counsellor.
RACHAEL BROWN: The two people he used heroin with were Greg Smith, Victoria's Pentridge Prison escapee who wrote the novel Shantaram, and David Christianson who's now an ordained Tibetan lama.
But the only book Richard Smith wants to write is on intervention and he says the new hair drug test kit on the market for parents to test their children is the wrong way to go about it.
RICHARD SMITH: Drug testing per say is good but in the wrong hands it can be disastrous and I think in the hands of parents without any professional support could cause some problems with relationships with their children.
RACHAEL BROWN: The US Biotech company behind the kit, Confirm Biosciences, says it will be a valuable tool for combating substance abuse.
President, Zeynep Ilgaz explains parents just need to mail a lock of hair to the company's lab and two days later they can access the test results online.
ZEYNEP ILGAZ: It will show up the prescription drugs as well as the illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, opiates and prescription drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin.
RACHAEL BROWN: But she's not advising parents to steal their children's hair.
ZEYNEP ILGAZ: We definitely want the hair to be cut from the head. We don't want it be the hair from a brush or from the pillow because you have got to make sure it belongs to that person and you have got to make sure that it is cut as close to the root as possible so we can get the most recent abuse.
RACHAEL BROWN: The company is working on moving the kits to retail shelves. At the moment they have to be ordered online.
In Melbourne's Bourke Street Mall opinion was divided on whether parents playing detective is appropriate.
VOX POP: I have a 16-year-old son. He is presently in Year 11 at high school. If I had my suspicions that he was behaving badly, I definitely would test the hair for drugs, yeah.
VOX POP 2: I think it is a terrible thing really. I think parents should be able to communicate with their children. If they can't do that then they can go and get some help with counselling or some sort of family counselling to help with that communication.
VOX POP 3: It stops with the parents. It's their choice. Hopefully they have enough faith in their kids that they don't have to do it though.
VOX POP 4: I think it is a fantastic idea because I have actually got a son who is 25 who does have an intellectual disability and he is very susceptible to being abused, very easily led and that way I can actually monitor him.
RACHAEL BROWN: Ms Ilgaz says parents should first try to talk to their children, but she says honest communication is not always possible.
ZEYNEP ILGAZ: Sometimes parents, they have to do what they have to do. I mean if a kid is addicted and they are abusing it every day, they are going to be lying about this and at that point you have to draw the conclusion, okay do I want to be popular parent or do I want to be the parent that stays in my kid's life.
RACHAEL BROWN: Richard Smith agrees addicts in denial will lie but he says stealing their hair is not the answer.
RICHARD SMITH: That even makes it worse because what you are doing is modelling the same behaviour – dishonesty and not doing the right thing.
Intervention, if they want to intervene in someone's life in drug use, it's a specialised area and what will here is the ones that volunteer are the 90 per cent that are the worried well – worried parents that their kids have got into drugs. And 90 per cent of people who try substances will have no problem whatsoever.
RACHAEL BROWN: So this 90 per cent of the worried well as you call it could potentially do more harm in terms of their relationships with their children who might not trust them after this?
RICHARD SMITH: I don't think it'll be a permanent scarring or a trauma but certainly it will have, you know parents have difficulty with teenagers anyway.
I drug tested my daughter but that was, you know she grew up in a drug rehab and it was because I knew she was lying. She knew I knew she was lying and when I said well, she was in hospital from fainting episodes and I believe it was associated with cannabis smoking, so when she gave a urine drug screen because we also thought she might have been pregnant.
So I said, while we've got the urine let's do a drug test and then said, "Oh Dad, I've got to tell you something". So, you know.
RACHAEL BROWN: So that's how it was broached for your daughter?
RICHARD SMITH: Yeah. I just said, look I know that you've used darling and you don't have to lie to me, you know. The truth is better than any lie. No matter how bad the truth is, it's far better than any lie.
When people lie to you, you really base decisions on a lie so your response and your solution will be wrong.
PETER CAVE: Melbourne drug counsellor Richard Smith. Rachael Brown our reporter.
07-31-2009: ABC AUSTRALIA
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