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Home Drug Test: Crutch Or Valuable Parent Tool?

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Rick Evans of the National Family Partnership, a St. Louis-based coalition of parents' groups dedicated to fighting drug abuse, agrees that it takes more than a test. "A drug test can't replace old-fashioned communication between a parent and a child," he says. "The best method to help keep a child drug free is to know your children, know their friends, be involved in their activities, and have a meaningful dialogue about their interests and behavior."

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Other experts see only pitfalls from drug testing by parents.

"The thought of having worried parents start doing this test and creating havoc... I have a vision of catastrophe and miscommunication in the family," says Rosalind Brannigan, vice president of Drug Strategies in Washington.

"There is nothing that can take the place of a good parent-child relationship. That is where the time and effort should go, so the child has the confidence to resist the pressures in the community," Ms. Brannigan says. "Otherwise, you end up with the parent being the policeman, and that has not been ... an effective method of prevention."

Cloud's drug tests aren't actually home drug tests. What parents purchase from Cloud is a collection cup - for the child's urine - a tamper-proof jar, a mailing label, and the services of a government-certified laboratory. The sample is mailed to the lab where it is checked for the presence of seven major drugs.

The testing procedure is confidential, with all samples identified only by a code number, so parents don't have to worry about the creation of medical files that might follow a child.

Although some drug experts have reservations about Cloud's idea, her biggest opponent remains the FDA. Officials at the agency have classified Cloud's test kit as a "Class III medical device" akin to highly regulated equipment such as pacemakers or CAT scan machines. Officials say the agency is simply trying to verify that Cloud's test isn't dangerous. Cloud says the agency wants to bankrupt her because they disagree philosophically with the idea of forcing children to submit to drug tests.

"It really doesn't have to do with parents and kids per se," says Marcia Meyer, an FDA spokeswoman. "Within the larger picture the question is, is it a safe and effective product?"

FDA officials say their largest concern is that doctors or other health professionals are not available to explain results to parents and offer advice on what action may be appropriate.

Rep. Thomas Bliley Jr. (R) of Virginia told the House Commerce Committee last week that the FDA was "clinging to the indefensible notion that American families are not competent to [do the test] ... and then deal in a responsible manner with the results."

But Lew Maltby, a drug-testing expert with the American Civil Liberties Union in New York says some parents may jump to the wrong conclusion by not attempting to verify positive test results through a qualified physician. "There is a serious risk that home tests are going to end up stigmatizing a lot of innocent kids as drug abusers," he says.

*Faye Bowers contributed to this report from Boston.