Wiping Up the Evidence
June 26, 2000 -- It's a product description to make a civil rights activist
shudder. The company Impact Health is offering what it calls the first
"noninvasive" home drug test: a small piece of gauze known as a
DrugWipe. While other home drug tests require the rather odious task of
collecting urine, DrugWipes allows the tester to simply wipe objects a drug
user might have touched -- the telephone, a doorknob, a table, or steering
wheel -- to come up with drug residues.
An official for the company that manufactures the wipes, SecureTec, tells
WebMD it's a safe, effective, and nearly foolproof way to detect recent drug
use. "The Office of National Drug Policy put the kit through hundreds of
tests. As we understand, we were the only kit to come up with 100% true
positives and 0% false negatives." What's more, the official says, it
allows for very precise cutoff levels so that innocent people aren't nabbed.
For example, a certain amount of drug residue is required before
Government tests obtained from SecureTec seem to support the official's
claims, with DrugWipes failing to pick up small residues of cocaine and heroin
from luggage, but scoring perfectly at higher amounts -- which were, of course,
still exceedingly small. Four different types of drugs can be detected by
separate DrugWipes: cocaine, amphetamines or "speed," marijuana, and
opiates -- which include heroin, morphine, and codeine.
Despite their apparent accuracy, Impact Health is marketing DrugWipes as
only a preliminary means to test for drugs. "It is entirely for a positive
intervention," says Jean Marie Marchetto, director of marketing (In fact,
they're sold at a web site named positiveintervention.com). "It's an
indication for you that there is a presence of drugs in the home or car, and as
a parent, you would want to talk with your child about it." Marchetto says
a positive DrugWipe test is not necessarily an indication someone is using
drugs -- but could, for example, indicate they're hanging around with
Sunny Cloud is a big fan of drug testing, but doesn't trust the notion of
"drug wipes." Six years ago, she founded Parent's Alert in Atlanta, a
urinary drug testing service, after discovering her then-15-year-old-son was
smoking pot. "There have been so many scientific studies about the
unreliability of these tests. The American public is being marked for bogus
testing." Cloud adds, "Over 85% of our [money has drug residue] on it.
It's very simple for the test to come up positive when you're totally and
completely not a drug user."
Cloud says using an in-home drug test should be a parent's last resort.
"I agree a child is entitled to a private life, and I agree a parent should
not breach a child's private life unless they have good reason to." Signs
of drug abuse would provide a good reason, she says. The problem is, the very
nature of adolescence makes drug-use detection somewhat difficult. For example,
Drug Testing Network Inc. offers the following signs that a child may be on
drugs: dramatic changes in styles of clothes, hair, music, attitude, and
personality. Many parents would say these are qualities that could just as
easily describe a normal teen-ager.