There are few parents who aren’t worried about drugs and their children – and with good reason. Isn’t it time you investigated the range of DIY drug tests?
BY ANNELIZE VISSER for YOU Pulse magazine.
It was every parent’s worst nightmare. When her 15-year-old son returned from a school camp, she found a bank bag of dagga in his dirty washing. Perhaps that’s why her cheerful, loving boy had suddenly become moody and aggressive, Sandra* thought.
She warned her son that she would test his urine for dagga in one month’s time. And she did. To make sure he couldn’t cheat, she stood outside the half-open bathroom door while he produced the sample. ‘‘It was extremely embarrassing for both of us and made him really angry,” Sandra says, recounting the experience.
The test was positive and over the next two years, during which she tested her son regularly, his continued drug use came close to destroying their relationship. Her only regret is that she didn’t test him sooner. “I watch my children closely,” she says. “And as a journalist I thought I was well informed. But my son had been using drugs for a year before I even found out.”
Testing the parent-child Relationship
Today, parents who suspect their teens are using drugs aren’t limited to secretly searching pockets and drawers, terrified of finding drug-related paraphernalia. They have access to drug test kits, available online and at most pharmacies, which will show with a high degree of reliability whether a child has recently used drugs. But while these tests provide answers, they don’t offer solutions.
Most are urine-based which means testing a child requires his or her cooperation. And to prevent tampering, drug-testing protocol requires the child to be observed from a reasonable distance while producing the sample – something some families might find unacceptable.
One very expensive test called the Drug Detective allows you to carry out a drug test without the child’s knowledge. But if the result is positive the issue of privacy is guaranteed to add heat to the follow-up discussion. And if the child is older than 18 it may even be against the law. Most parents would agree the injury to a child’s dignity as a result of a drug test is completely justified compared with the life-threatening consequences of drug abuse.
Demand for test kits on the increase
Pharmacists confirm the demand for drug test kits is increasing – which suggests growing numbers of parents are making the difficult decision to conduct drug tests at home. But testing your children for drugs challenges the parent-child relationship – and the tests don’t come with instructions on how to confront the problem they’re designed to detect.
Which test is best?
Most pharmacies stock multi-drug tests which, as the name suggests, screen urine for more than one category of drug.
They’re also sometimes called multi-panel tests because each “panel” or testing strip is formulated to test the presence of a separate drug category.
Five-panel multi-drug tests cover the most common illegal drugs: THC (marijuana or dagga), cocaine (including crack), methamphetamine and amphetamine (including tik and ecstasy) and opiates (morphine and heroin). A six-panel test will also indicate the presence of benzodiazepines, the category to which date drugs such as Rohypnol belong.
How to use the test
Multi-drug tests are used by either dipping the testing strips into the urine sample and reading the result within a specified number of minutes or by dripping urine onto the testing strips.
Tests for individual drugs are widely available at around R20 each and are similar to pregnancy tests in appearance and function. But a test for tik, for example, won’t indicate the presence of cocaine or any other category of illegal drug.
So once the multi-drug test has revealed the category of drug the child is using, individual drug tests are useful for follow-up testing. Multi-drug tests will cost you between R75 and R100. You can also order a sixpanel multi-drug test online at www. drugtest.co.za for R55.
Pharmacists agree that once you’ve decided to test your child for drugs, a multi-drug test is the best starting point. Sandra doesn’t regret testing her son. Would she do it again? “Yes, definitely – it’s my right. He was a minor living in my house and at risk from drugs. I’d have done anything to fight back.”
* Not her real name
What if your child won’t co-operate?
A teenager who refuses to provide a urine sample for a drug test isn’t necessarily a drug user. At this age many kids resent what they regard as interference by their parents, or the child may simply have a strong concept of dignity and privacy and be willing to risk suspicion to protect it. But that certainly won’t help Mom and Dad sleep any better .
That’s where a widely available, non-invasive test called Drug Detective comes in. Drug Detective has its origins in the fields of forensics and biochemistry and the test procedure seems to come straight from an episode of CSI. Drug Detective can detect trace amounts of drugs on common surfaces such as clothing, computer keyboards and cellphones.
There are detailed instructions for collecting and testing surface residue, powders, tablets and liquids for a range of substances including cocaine, marijuana, tik, speed and crack. And results are available within 10 minutes.
The test is not without risks. The technology is sophisticated, so it’s easy to make a mistake that could produce a false-positive or false-negative result. And surfaces are public – so testing your teen’s cellphone for traces of drugs, for example, is pointless unless you’re 100 per cent sure no one else has recently handled the phone. The Drug Detective costs R204 to R325 at pharmacies – in keeping with most sleuths this detective’s services don’t come cheap.
Test buying tips
- Most drug test kits are generic rather than branded or are identified by codes.
- Some pharmacies such as the Alpha Pharm group or organisations such as Arrive Alive brand their own tests.
- If you feel embarrassed about asking for a drug or alcohol test at the prescription counter, call ahead, explain what you need and arrange to collect the test at the till.
Is it legal?
By and large, yes. Kerry Williams and Prelishna Singh of attorneys Webber Wentzel say there are no laws prohibiting parents from testing their children for drug use. But they’re quick to point out that the Children’s Act of 2005 gives children the right to participate in matters concerning themselves and requires parents to consider their children’s views.
The legal buffs say that although this section doesn’t prohibit parents from testing their children for drugs, it does impose a duty to tell children about the test and allow them to express their views about it.
On the other hand, say Williams and Singh, testing a child for drug use without his or her knowledge is a violation of the child’s constitutional right to privacy. But there are circumstances where this right to privacy can be limited if it’s reasonable and justifiable.
Their view is that determining whether a child is using an illegal substance is both reasonable and justifiable. So it is possible to test your child without his or her knowledge or consent without breaking any law. But if the child is already 18 and thus no longer a minor, doing a drug test without his or her consent is certainly against the law.
Sniffing out alcohol
The introduction of a points system for traffic violations that could see repeat offenders losing their licenses makes it likely more people will test their own alcohol level before getting behind the wheel.
Plus, because children learn about appropriate behaviour from their parents’ actions (rather than their words), monitoring your own alcohol consumption before driving can serve as a powerful example of the risks and responsibilities of substance use and abuse.
Breathalyser tests for alcohol consumption are cheap and widely available at pharmacies, with disposable tests starting at around R2.
This article by Annelize Visser is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the Summer 2008/2009 edition of YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS. The current edition is on sale now.
Write to the Addiction Expert for advice.