Parents hoping to curtail teenage drug abuse are flocking to a new program, now in two New York counties, that offers free drug testing kits.
"Heroin is an epidemic here in Suffolk County [Long Island]," Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said. "I see the pain in parents' eyes. They're looking for something to combat their children's drug use."
On Nov. 19, Suffolk County announced that it had purchased 16,000 drug testing kits, available for free for parents who want to test their children. The kits use litmus paper to test urine for six different drugs including methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin, Vicadin and Xanax. Since the program started parents have picked up nearly 450 of them, DeMarco said.
"We've had a hard time keeping up with the demand so far," he said. "But we're going to make sure every parent who wants one of these drug testing kits gets one."
The kits also come with a small thermometer attached so parents can check to see if the temperature of the sample is the same as their child's body temperature, which makes it harder for kids to rig the test results.
One Suffolk County parent has already brought the kit home to test her 12-year-old son. Jenny Andersson, co-president of the Rocky Point PTA, said the test came up negative for her son. She said she has been trying to bring drug prevention to the forefront of the conversation in her school district because three students have died from heroin use in the past three years.
According to Andersson, neighboring Smithtown and Sachem school districts have held assemblies for students to talk about the issue of drug use in their communities, and Rocky Point will do the same in March.
Andersson said in her conversations with police about drug use she has learned that kids on Long Island who get hooked on drugs often start with prescription drugs they take from home, or buy from other kids, sometimes at a high price.
"When they're out on the street," Andersson said, "drug dealers say, 'I've got something cheaper for you,' and it's heroin for $5 a bag. And then, they either become addicted, or they die."
Why, then, does she think heroin is such a problem on Long Island? Aside from the price and availability, Andersson said, "you can snort it and smoke it now. You don't have to shoot it up. It takes the stigma of the needle away."
"We've been following what's happening in other districts, so we're going to have an assembly of our own," Andersson said. "Sheriff DeMarco is going to bring kits to give to parents" to the meeting on March 23 in the school's auditorium. "It fits about 700 people," she says, "we're hoping to fill it."
Andersson praises the kits, which police purchased from Uritox. "You don't have to wonder anymore," she said.
"Now you'll know in five minutes if they're on drugs. The other alternative was always to bring them to a hospital. And can you really do that every time they seem like they're acting strange."
Funding for the project comes from drug paraphernalia seized by county sheriffs.
"I can't think of any sweeter justice," DeMarco said. "We're using money we confiscated from drug dealers to hurt the demand, and get our children help." It's the next step in what DeMarco says has been a long battle.