Why More N.Y. Parents Are Drug Testing Their Kids

Drug kitsCourtesy Suffolk County Sheriffs Department
The Suffolk County, NY sheriff's office has just begun distributing this drug testing kit to parents. Eventually they plan for them to be made available in school district offices across the county.

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.

VIDEO: How to Keep Your Teenager Out of TroublePlay

"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.

'You Don't Have to Wonder Anymore'

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."

Drug Kits Funded by Confiscated Drug Dealer Money

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.

"We've been attacking the drug problem on the supply side, as we did with our drug wars in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's just not enough to attack the supply," DeMarco said. "This is another way to try and stop it, and it's a tool for parents to open up conversation."

Drug Kits Distributed in Upstate New York

For several months, in upstate New York, the village of Phoenix has been distributing drug testing kits to parents whose children attend John C. Bridlebough High School after dealing with prescription drug abuse problems.

Phoenix village police chief Rod Carr said in several cases kids were taking prescription drugs right out of their parent's medicine cabinets and distributed them to fellow students.

In one case, Carr said, a high-school student was selling pills for $3 each. Carr said police found the drugs in the student's locker. In May, Carr said a 15-year-old girl from Phoenix was hospitalized for seizures after buying and taking hydrocodone, an analgesic and cough supressant similar to codeine but with effects similar to morphine, in school.

The incident pushed the village government to purchase drug testing kits of their own. Parents can pick up the kits free of charge, and free of questions, from a local pharmacy called Medicine Place. More than 125 kits have been distributed since then.

"The idea of the program is to get parents to talk to their kids about the inherent dangers of using prescription drugs," said Medicine Place pharmacist David Dingman. "Whether it's a controlled substance or not, there's a reason that these things are prescription drugs. There's potential harm to do there."

Carr asked the Medicine Place if they would distribute the kits; he thought that the idea of parents going to the police station would make them think twice about taking part in the program.

"We won't have anyone walking in," Carr said. "They're all going to be afraid that we're taking down names, and we'll be knocking on their doors."

'We Promote Conversation'

The kits being distributed in Phoenix test for Oxycontin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. Dingman said they're easy to use. After collecting a urine sample, a litmus test is placed on top of the container.

"Though a hole," Dingman said, "it'll give you a positive or negative test," as colors react to the presence of certain drugs. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.

If the test results show a positive reading, the drug kit refers parents to a lab for sample testing, if the signs point to these drugs in their kids' systems.

Dingman said a company in Tampa, Fla., had read about Phoenix's program on the Internet, and offered to give 30 kits to the village. They have since received them, and are continuing to distribute them.

Doug Chinchar, who created the kits, decided to market the KNOW NO Drug Test after working as a high-school women's volleyball coach, where he heard his team discussing drugs and getting high.

"Drugs kill the first time," Chinchar said. "I got tired of hearing about this kid dying, and that kid dying, and parents sobbing about things they never thought their kids would do."

So he designed his kit for all families to start talking about narcotic and prescription drug abuse.

"We don't promote drug testing, but we promote conversation," Chinchar said. He asks parents to "use it as a teaching tool."

The kits come in a magnetized box, so they can go on the refrigerator as a constant reminder for kids to turn away from prescription drug abuse.

Spreading the Word

In the next town over from Phoenix, Schroeppel, N.Y., town councilman Dick Kline donated $250 to help fund the program here. In addition to drug testing kit programs in Suffolk County and Phoenix, school districts and towns in Onondaga County, N.Y. have been talking about instituting similar initiatives.

Marcellus Central School District superintendent Craig Tice said that he has been to several meetings with a community group, Family and Community Together With Schools. They have expressed interest in bringing drug testing there. So has nearby Baldwinsville, N.Y. Jeanne Dangle, superintendent of the Baldwinsville Central School District, said that the district has "decided to pursue it, and educate a few more people about it."

Chinchar said he's been in touch with school districts "in the thousands," from Alaska to Maryland. Chinchar sells them to schools for $10 each, discounted from the $35 price pharmacies charge.

Moving Forward

Though the program has been popular in Phoenix, the village is still fighting the battle against drug abuse. In late October, police confiscated more drugs at the high school -- this time, a few pill bottles, again stolen from a student's home. Carr said the student only made a few dollars off the alleged transaction.

Andersson, from Long Island, said the drug testing kits are a great deterrent for kids who would otherwise be pressured in to taking drugs forced upon them by peers. "It's a great 'out' for them," she said. "They can say, 'hey, when I get home, my mom's going to test me.'" That, she says, could prove to be invaluable protection for children like her son -- protection she and her neighbors have been looking for.

ABCNews.com contributor Matt Markham is a member of the Syracuse University ABC News on Campus bureau.