Home Drug Test: Crutch Or Valuable Parent Tool?
Random drug testing is credited with substantially reducing the rate of narcotics abuse in the US military. It has forced thousands of American workers to choose between marijuana and a paycheck. It's helping to keep paroled felons on the straight and narrow.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, a mother in Marietta, Ga., wants to know why the same tough tactic can't be used to protect those Americans most vulnerable to illegal drugs - children.
The mother, Sunny Cloud, is president of a business called Parents' Alert, a company that sells a $40 home-based drug-testing kit. In more than two years of business, she has sold roughly 1,000 kits entirely by word of mouth to parents desperately seeking a solution to this growing national problem.
But Mrs. Cloud's approach is stirring considerable controversy. The US Food and Drug Administration wants to shut her down.
Officials are concerned that parents may not possess the expertise to administer the tests and interpret results. Other critics think it is just a bad idea. Some drug-abuse experts and civil libertarians are asking whether we really want to treat our children like Army recruits, employees, and paroled felons.
"This is a parents' rights issue," Cloud says. "If my test is good enough to be given in the workplace, why isn't it good enough to be given in the home?"
She adds, "I'm not trying to make trouble for anyone, but I think parents will work hardest to keep their kids off drugs. If it means parents having a drug test to keep their kids clean and sober, then I think we should have access to drug tests."
Cloud says she came up with the idea for parent-administered drug tests after she discovered in 1992 that her junior-high-age son was smoking marijuana. She rushed him to the local hospital emergency room for a drug test. "It was humiliating and expensive," she says.
She developed a drug test of her own and forced her son to submit to random checks. "Now he has a B average in college and is a totally different person."
The key for her: "It is a zero tolerance stance," she says of her drug tests. "He also knew that I loved him enough to take a stance."
Experts in countering drug abuse disagree on the potential usefulness of such drug tests. But all agree that drug tests alone won't solve the problem.
Federal drug czar Barry McCaffrey says drug tests combined with drug education and prevention proved effective in the military in the 1970s, and in the workplace in the 1980s. But he says it's not the "magic pill" of the 1990s.
The essential element, he says, is that parents must communicate to their children that they will not tolerate drug use. "Now how do parents go about making that case? I would argue, five days a week have supper with your children and listen to them. And on Sundays, go to church - pick a church at random - and spend Sunday together as a family. I would argue that is much more useful than catching them on a [urine] test on Monday morning," Mr. McCaffrey says.
"But, on the other hand," he says, "I think families ought to make up their own minds about it. We have home pregnancy tests, home AIDS tests. Maybe we need a home drug test."