• 08-04-2008: LA Daily News


    Testing kids for drugs is today’s parental dilemma

    By Susan Abram, Staff Writer

    If your mom or dad pluck a few strands of hair from your head while you’re sleeping, you could soon have some explaining to do.

    Next month, a new home-based hair follicle drug-test kit goes on sale for $90 at Walgreens – the latest over-the-counter test for those with suspicious minds.

    The makers of HairConfirm claim the test can detect 12 drugs, including methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and Vicodin. They also say it can tell parents – and even spouses, for that matter – how often culprits might have been abusing drugs for up to 90 days.

    Nearly three dozen FDA-approved home kits testing urine and saliva for drugs have been available for the past 20 years. But some addiction specialists say increasingly easy access to such products raises several issues about relationships – particularly parental – including trust and betrayal.

    Once a parent receives the results on their child, then what?

    “Is Susie Suburb going to shell out 90 bucks to test her kid’s hair? I’m not sure it’s necessary,” said Susan Shaddock, director of program services for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the San Fernando Valley.

    “If you get to the point where you are testing your kid’s hair, it’s too late for that relationship.”

    But the makers of the kit, San Diego-based ConfirmBioSciences, call it just another weapon for parents in the war on drugs.

    The company isn’t quite off target with its assumptions:

    Recent figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that while marijuana and alcohol use among teens has declined in the last few years, popping pills is steadily increasing, with 15.4 percent of high school seniors reporting nonmedical use of at least one prescription medication within the past year.

    “We definitely see a trend in prescription drug abuse during spring break and summer time,” said Zeynep Ilgaz, CEO for HairConfirm.

    Ilgaz cautions that drug testing is not a solution to the problem. And the company does not condone sneaking in on children as they sleep to swipe a hair sample. But the test requires that hair come directly from the head and not a brush or from clothing or towels.

    “Sometimes it’s a controversial issue because the parent is going to their kid and asking them to take the test,” Ilgaz said. “But on the whole, parents have been calling us for a product they can use from the privacy of their home.”

    The kit includes a prepaid shipping envelope to be sent to a lab, where the specimen is tested and analyzed in 24 to 48 hours, Ilgaz said. It comes with its own codes, which parents can input into a Web site to retrieve anonymous results.

    The test is 99.9 percent accurate, Ilgaz said, and can detect drugs from a 1.5-inch length of hair, even body hair and follicles that have been colored or curled, she said.

    Drug treatment experts say hair testing is used in legal settings and forensics, but still question its accuracy compared to the tried-and-true urine sample conducted in a supervised setting.

    “Let’s say you get a $20 bill at the bank and it’s been in the hands of someone who has used cocaine, then you run your hands through your hair. You can get a positive result because of secondary exposure,” said Rick Rawson, an associate director of UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.

    “It seems that these kits replace talking to your kids. It’s like the parent is saying, `If we test them enough, they will be scared that we’re going to find out if they are using.”‘

    And he said parents can get a false sense of their child’s drug use, whether there’s a positive or negative result.

    “I do think there is a false sense of security because if you receive a negative test, you’ll think that everything is hunky-dory, but there are many drugs that don’t show up on these tests,” he said.

    Addiction specialists say parents are better off bringing their child to a facility where results can be discussed openly.

    “While we appreciate the parents’ concern, the testing is not generally supervised in the home and that creates a huge problem,” said Stewart Sokol, director of youth services at the Tarzana Treatment Center. “A youth can take hair from a hair brush or from their own parents.”

    And Sokol said parents might not know who to turn to if the test is positive.

    “When you see a positive result, then what do you do?” he said. “We saw this with the HIV home-test kit, where people saw the result, but (had) no one to talk to.”

    HairConfirm does provide someone to discuss the results, Ilgaz said.

    While some teens would seem horrified and embarrassed that a parent would ask them to yank hair from their heads, Caitlin Lafferty, 17, said similar testing saved her life.

    Her dad made her take a urine test.

    “When I was using, I felt very violated and I did not want to do the test,” Caitlin said. “I didn’t respond well when my dad asked me to do it because he was really sneaky about it.”

    But she later understood why.

    “I was using everything,” said Caitlin, who now works at Sober College, a drug rehab center in Woodland Hills, where she sought treatment.

    “Amphetamines, heroin, prescriptions, cocaine. My dad was really concerned, worried, and he felt helpless. He had no idea what I was doing. I was just, like, crazy and angry.”

    Caitlin said testing could give parents a reality check.

    “I think sneaking hairs may be going too far, but I think parents need to know,” she said. “Looking back, I’m so glad he did it.”

    But Sherman Oaks mom Blaise Brooks said there is no way she could approach her daughter and ask for hair.

    Brooks is a member of the Five Moms Campaign, a grass-roots effort founded by five moms from different backgrounds across the country who educate parents about teens abusing cough medicine to get high. Brooks said she believes in the power of communication and awareness.

    The site fivemoms.com provides talking points and other information for parents on how to approach talking about drugs.

    “Because I believe in the dialogue with the kids, I personally wouldn’t do the test,” Brooks, 40, said. “Communication can make you not have to go through that uncomfortable situation. I believe education starts in the home, not at the drugstore.”



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