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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Wiping Up the Evidence

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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.

The American Civil Liberties Union also is skeptical of products like DrugWipes because they tell, at best, half the story. "There are always two steps to a successful drug test," says Graham Boyd, director of the Drug Policy Litigation Project. "The first is a [test like DrugWipes]. ... But that test itself cannot be the basis for taking any kind of action." Boyd says a second urinary test is required for absolute confirmation.

"A good police officer knows a field test for marijuana raises strong suspicions. But before you would do anything, you would usually get that test confirmed. But a parent would probably not know the difference. The parent would probably say, 'Well, there you go ... there are drugs.'" Boyd adds, "Parents make mistakes all the time about this kind of behavior, and sometimes tragic results ensue from that."

Vital Information:

  • DrugWipes are small pieces of gauze that can test for drug use by simply wiping them over a surface the potential drug user has touched, such as a doorknob, table, or steering wheel.
  • The wipes test for cocaine, speed, and opiates, such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, and the product is shown to be highly accurate.
  • The company that makes DrugWipes is calling the method preliminary, and observers say tests like DrugWipes should be used along with other verification of drug use before action is taken.


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