For months, the Clinton administration fought Republican accusations that it was soft on drugs. Then, last fall, the administration came under additional fire for restricting the sale of home drug tests that parents can administer to their children.
The federal Food and Drug Administration countered that it was simply asking the question: Are these tests safe and effective? Recently, it gave its first approval to one such test.
Current statistics show why there might be a market for these products. A recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicated that marijuana use, in particular, has soared among children and teens since 1991. Surveys also indicate that parents are increasingly uncomfortable talking to their children about the dangers of drug use. In theory, home drug tests provide parents with another tool in the fight against drugs.
But the tests also imply that a more crucial tool has failed: good communication between parent and child. Parents should be explaining to children why drug use is harmful and wrong - that it conflicts with true self-discovery and independence. Parents who suspect their children are using drugs should calmly, prayerfully, consider how to open the subject and start a process of change. The place of home testing in that process is, at best, dubious.
The onus also is on the country as a whole to take a stand against the use of illegal drugs and to work to reduce demand. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Clinton said his antidrug effort would include stopping drugs at their source, punishing those who push them, and - most important - teaching young people that drugs are wrong, illegal, and can kill. Any move toward legalizing marijuana or cocaine, on the theory that their use could then be regulated and profits could be taxed away, would send exactly the wrong message to the nation's youth.
The antidrug messages from parents and from society have to harmonize. This communication task is immeasurably more important to curbing youthful drug use than a home drug-testing device.