• 08-05-2008: The Press Enterprise


     

    Inland parents respond to influx of home drug-testing kits

     
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    The Press Enterprise, August 5, 2008

    By SARAH BURGE
    The Press-Enterprise

    All it takes to know whether your child has been using drugs in the past 90 days — from marijuana to methamphetamine to prescription medications — is a lock of hair and an overnight mailer, according to one San Diego company.

    Thanks to home drug-test kits, which are for sale online and promise results within a few days, it is getting easier for parents who want to test their teenagers. And, unlike the urine tests available in drug stores, the manufacturers say hair-follicle tests are cheat-proof.

    But many experts on adolescent health say parents should think twice before taking drug testing into their own hands.

    Kelly Spitler, of Corona, who has four teenagers, said she has never suspected her children of using drugs, but if she did, she would not be opposed to testing them.

    “What would it hurt?” she asked.

    But she questioned whether a home-administered test would be the way to go.

    What would a parent do if it is positive, she wondered. Does the test come with directions for that?

    In response to the increasing marketing of drug-test kits to parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued policy statements, most recently in 2007, opposing home drug testing of teenagers.

    Instead, the organization urges parents to seek advice from a health professional to ensure that tests are performed properly and that the child receives appropriate treatment.

    Few scientific studies have been done on the pros and cons of drug testing teenagers, the statement said, and testing risks harming the parent-child relationship “by creating an environment of resentment, distrust and suspicion.”

    “These tests are still very complicated to understand,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the adolescent substance-abuse program at Children’s Hospital Boston, who was a consultant on the most recent policy statement.

    A negative result does not necessarily mean a child has never used drugs, Levy said. “Is the parent going to understand that without a professional walking them through it?”

    Parents should talk openly with their children about drugs and what is going on in their lives, Levy said. “I think that’s a much better message than ‘give me a piece of hair.’ “

    Just a Tool

    “This is not an answer to a problem. It’s just a tool,” said Zeynap Ilgaz, president of Confirm BioSciences, the San Diego-based drug-testing company that sells the HairConfirm brand test kits.

    When parents concerned about a positive test result call the company, Ilgaz said, they refer them to the Boys Town National Hotline, a 24-hour crisis and referral line.

    Ilgaz said the test gives parents ground to stand on when they think a child is being dishonest with them.

    “These numbers don’t lie,” Ilgaz said.

    “Yes, it’s a very hard decision to drug test, but you save that kid’s life,” she said. “It’s not about being a popular parent.”

    Ilgaz declined to release exact numbers but said the company sells hundreds of the kits a week.

    Web sites for companies that market drug-testing kits to parents are rife with fear-inducing statistics about teenage drug use — and portray the kits as an easy way to achieve peace of mind.

    The Web site for HairConfirm says that because teens who start as “casual marijuana users” are more likely to use harder drugs, “it is important to test your child at the first signs of suspicious behavior that could be the result of drug use and even if there are no signs.”

    The HairConfirm test requires a sample of 90 to 120 strands about 1½ inches long, cut close to the scalp. The directions say the sample should be cut right from the teenager’s head — not plucked from a hairbrush — to avoid the possibility of getting the wrong person’s hair.

    Parents send the sample to the lab and results are available online in two to 10 business days. Shipping costs are included in the $66 to $80 cost. Because the samples are identified only by number, they are anonymous.

    The hair tests sometimes fail to detect marijuana use, depending on how an individual metabolizes the drug, Ilgaz said.

    The federal government mandates minimum thresholds for each drug that must be detected before a lab can call a result “positive,” Ilgaz said. Because of that, the test likely will come back negative for one-time drug use.

    For a parent who wants to know only about very recent drug use, Ilgaz said, a urine test would be more appropriate.

    Prescription Trouble

    According to a 2007 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported drug use among teenagers held steady or declined for most drugs compared to 2006. Prescription-drug use, however, was “unacceptably high.”

    Researchers found that 15.4 percent of high school seniors reported nonmedical use of at least one prescription medication within the past year.

    Rocky Hill, owner of Hill Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Temecula, said that while it would be better for parents to seek professional help if they are worried, giving a home test is probably better than no test at all.

    Hill said he and his wife gave their daughter a urine drug test as a preventive measure, even though they did not suspect she was using drugs.

    If a test result is positive, it is essential that parents seek help, he said. “Usually, what love tells mom and dad to do is the wrong thing.”

    When a young person is abusing drugs “We need to move it out of this notion of right and wrong and punishment,” he said. It should be viewed more as a medical condition.

    Several parents interviewed recently at the Promenade Mall in Temecula said they either had tested their children for drugs or would consider testing if they strongly suspected drug use. But they balked at the idea of drug testing to discourage a child from using drugs.

    “Oh, I’ve done that,” said Pauline Gordon, of Hemet, a mother of six, when asked whether it would be a good idea for parents to test their teens. “I know it sounds terrible.”

    Gordon said she did not intervene quickly enough when one of her older children had drug problems. Eventually, her daughter had to enter a rehab program.

    “It was too late,” Gordon said. “She’s fine now, but she had the two worst years of her life.”

    So when Gordon began to suspect her 13-year-old daughter might be using drugs, she did not hesitate to give her a drug test. “She was acting weird — it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    “I felt bad,” she said, especially after the test came back negative. “I went overboard, but I’d do it again.”

    “I started crying,” said Vianca Gordon, now 15, recalling her reaction. “I knew I wasn’t getting busted or anything,” Vianca said. But it hurt her feelings that her parents did not trust her.

    Looking back, she said, maybe it was not such a bad thing.

    “It causes you to think twice the next time — before you do anything.”

    Reach Sarah Burge at 951-375-3736 or sburge@PE.com

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