To help combat teenage drug abuse, many parents are turning to do-it-yourself drug tests. Home drug testing kits are now widely available on the Internet and in many pharmacies. These tests typically use urine, hair or saliva to test for a panel of drugs that may include marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and opioids.
There is no question about the importance of stopping teenage drug abuse. Because the body and brain are undergoing critical development during adolescence, drug use can be especially damaging to a teen’s health and emotional well-being.
Studies have shown that the earlier a teenager begins using drugs, the greater the risk of developing drug dependence or addiction. However, there is limited evidence that home drug tests are an effective way to deal with teen drug abuse.
According to a 2008 article in U.S. New & World Report, there are a variety of ways to cheat drug tests. An online search reveals a wide range of tips and products for passing urine drug tests, including tampering with or swapping the sample and loading up on water before testing. A more dangerous method for beating drug tests is switching drugs. There have been reports of teens who face drug tests changing from a detectable drug like marijuana to harder-to-detect substances like LSD, inhalants and prescription drugs.
There is also a risk that a drug test administered in the home will yield a false-positive result. Cold medications, antibiotics and even poppy seeds can cause positive results. Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and Medical Director for the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, doesn’t recommend that parents ever use home drug tests because they will be misled by the results. She also discourages use of drug tests because of the lack of evidence that they keep kids away from drugs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been very little research into the usefulness of teenage drug testing. One study that was reported in the Journal of Adolescent Heath in 2008 found that student athletes who had been tested randomly for alcohol and drugs for a full school year showed the same amount of drug and alcohol abuse as students who weren’t tested. In fact, drug testing was linked to an increase in some risk factors for future substance abuse.
More research is clearly needed into the value of drug testing for teens. When it comes to prevention, many experts believe that talking to kids about the dangers of drug abuse can be more effective than drug testing. They also suggest that parents who suspect that their teen is abusing drugs or alcohol should seek professional help rather than trying to handle the problem on their own.