Kit tests kids for drugs

MICHELE MANDEL

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

TORONTO -- Some of your pain pills have gone missing from the medicine cabinet and you're becoming suspicious. Or your teen is hanging out with a new group of friends, his grades are going south and he's behaving strangely.

Is he taking drugs?

You've rifled through his drawers, searched his eyes and even asked directly, but despite the denials and lack of real evidence, you still sense something is wrong. You've delivered countless lectures and warnings about the dangers of drugs, but you're just a parent and you're no match for the cool kids who talk about the fun of pot or the high of prescription painkillers. After all, you just wouldn't understand.

So, you worry and the statistics you've read are hardly reassuring. The 2007 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) shows that 26% of students reported using cannabis at least once in the past year. Among all drugs asked about, OxyContin was the only one to show a significant, but small, increase in non-medical use since the last survey two years before.

Is your child one of the users? What are you supposed to do?

According to a California company, whip out your scissors and send in your kid's hair for drug testing.

Oh, those poor teens. GPS can keep track of their movements, new Ontario laws will hamstring their driving, spyware monitors their computer chats and now My Mom, the Narc can run drug tests in their bedrooms.

48-HOUR SERVICE

Based in San Diego, Confirm Biosciences says it's putting the control back in parents' hands with their new HairConfirm Prescription product. Retailing for $89.99 US and available on-line in Canada, the at-home package allows parents to cut a hair sample and ship it -- cost not included outside the US -- to their lab for testing.

With a confidential access code, the anonymous results can then be obtained on-line within 48 hours, telling worried parents if their child has used any of 12 different types of illegal and prescription drugs within the last 90 days. It also includes a table to indicate if the level of drug in their child's system is that of a recreational user or an addicted one.

"We get a lot of requests from Canadians," said Zeynep Ilgaz, CEO of Confirm BioScience. "Prescription abuse is really high with OxyContin and Vicodin. They are so accessible in medicine cabinets."

Rather than secretly snipping in the night, Ilgaz advises parents to ask their children for a hair sample of about 80 hairs. "We definitely recommend a hair cut from the head and not from behind a child's back," she says. "Nothing can replace communication."

"Zoe" would have loved to have had the testing kit when she was going through her crisis with her drug-abusing teenager. "When you have a child in trouble, you do what you have to do," explains the Richmond Hill mom, who didn't want her real name used. "Children lie to your face at the time and you think that they don't because you love them, but they do. Every parent is a sucker in that respect. I think it is a helpful tool."

It's difficult to imagine too many teens -- users or not -- will be keen on submitting their locks for examination. For those who can't get their kids to donate voluntarily, hair from a brush -- or midnight haircut -- will do.

But what about the destruction of trust between parent and child, not to mention the violation of their privacy?

In the United States, where the war on drugs was a George Bush religion, Internet companies and drug-testing labs report huge upswings in teen testing and sales of home drug-screening kits. Some schools have even taken to dipping their students' urine -- in June 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled that public schools can perform random drug tests on all middle and high school students participating in extracurricular activities.

OUTRAGEOUS

It seems outrageous and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Civil Liberties Union have come out against at-home and school-based drug testing.

Ilgaz recognizes the controversy, but argues that home screening may help kids withstand peer pressure -- giving them an "out" so they can tell their friends they can't partake because they might get tested. While for desperate parents, she says, it offers answers they may not be able to get otherwise.

"We have seen a lot of cases where the results were really high and the kid was sent to rehab. It has helped a lot of people in a positive way."

Even if your kid never wants to talk to you again.

Zoe says it's worth the risk. "You can arrest it on the spot and veer it in another direction," the mom says of early drug use. "And as a drug counsellor once told me, when someone is in trouble, they're going to resent the hell out of you anyway. But one day, they're going to thank you."


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