— -- One quiet afternoon on the outskirts of New Orleans, Michael Davis was on his way to execute a very particular kind of drug bust.
The target was not a hardened criminal, but instead a 12-year-old boy named Jared, who hasn’t even reached high school yet. But his mother Kelly feared he was already using drugs, so she called Davis to come down from his headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, to do a sweep of their house. They asked that their last names not to be used.
“It keeps me up all night sometimes, because I think of them and when they were these tiny little babies in my arms,” Kelly said. “Everything has spiraled out of control.”
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Davis is former military who had his own past struggles with drugs. He now runs a private company where he and his drug sniffing dogs can be hired by anxious parents to snoop on their kids. He charges $99 per session, what he calls the “Worried Parent Program.”
When Davis confronted Jared about using drugs, the boy broke down.
“That’s the first time he has cried in two years,” his mother Kelly said.
But some say Davis’s tactics are extreme and his approach is controversial in part because he cuts out law enforcement entirely. If he finds drugs during a sweep, he won’t touch it but instead leaves it to the parents to handle the situation. In fact, Davis guarantees absolute discretion.
“We locate the narcotics, we provide advice on where to go, how to get help, how to positively reinforce good behavior,” Davis said.
“There is nothing wrong with a proactive approach,” Davis said. “It’s good parenting.”
Davis’s dogs are trained at his headquarters to identify chemicals used to process drugs, such as fertilizers in marijuana and compounds used in meth or heroin, just like police dogs.
“We often see heroin, meth but we have also come across some synthetic drugs,” Davis said. “Spice is everywhere.”
Some question whether Davis is trying to take the law into his own hands.
“I don’t even think they [law enforcement] see it as suspicious,” Davis said. “I think they see it as we’re stepping on their toes. We want to help the issue. Locking up a child does not help the issue.”
Davis's approach is designed to give the kids a sort of wake-up call so they stop using and get help before they get a police record or jail time.
“There are children that are 10 years old that are being locked up and put into facilities,” he said. “There are 12-year-olds in this nation who have overdosed from finding drugs and utilizing them as well.”
Most people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The NIDA estimated there were just over 2.8 million new users of illicit drugs in 2013 and over half were under age 18, and that illicit drug use has increased over the past decade for Americans age 12 and older.
Nine out of 10 people with substance abuse problems started using by age 18, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
This has led Davis to launch his unique business model, and he said he gets calls from all over the country, but some critics argue he is profiting off parents’ fears. Some therapists argue that Davis going through kids’ things could break the essential bond of trust between a parents and child.
“It could also lead to difficulties having a positive relationship with your child,” said psychologist Liz Morrison.
But Davis argues that psychologists aren’t always helpful to these kids.
“They [psychologists] are not working because these people have studied human behavior,” he said. “They haven’t studied how these children actually are, meaning they haven’t lived their lives.”
Davis said some of his biggest clients are halfway houses, where juveniles with past drug offenses have routine access to the streets.
“We always come up with things,” Davis said. “You’re dealing with an environment of drugs. This is what they know.”
Davis said he finds himself working in all kinds of neighborhoods across the country, from the rough side of town to the posh suburbs, talking with concerned parents.
One father, who is not being identified by name, said he called Davis for his services after he found his son wandering around a convenience store and said he was so high he didn’t recognize who his father was.
“We thought it was getting out of control, and we could see all this other fallout from it with the grades, the isolation, what have you,” the father said. “We’ve called Michael because we want to be sure what is and what isn’t in this house.”
The father said his son was once a straight A-student and a champion athlete, but now he is throwing his future away with drugs. He said they found and cleaned out his stash of marijuana once before, but he worried there was more.
“We think that if we don’t get some help, our son could end up killing himself by mistake,” the father said.
The father allowed Davis into his son’s bedroom with one of his drug sniffing dogs while the son was working at a local fast food restaurant. His dog named Oakley zeroed in on the boy’s desk.
“When I opened this drawer, she put her nose in and sat down. What that means is she is 100 percent positive,” Davis said. “She’s pulling, she is showing that there are signs of marijuana in this drawer.”
Sure enough, Davis found an Altoids can with marijuana and prescription pills inside, as well as a scale.
“He is weighing out, either selling or making sure that what he bought is what he bought,” Davis said. “I’ll tell you this much … I’ve never met a child who has scales in his room that wasn’t selling.”
Davis advised the parents to become their son’s “ally” and help him stop his drug habits.
But Davis does not have a degree in counseling or psychology so some critics might say he’s not in a place to offer these parents advice on what to do with their child, but he believes what he is doing helps families.
“We always ask these children, ‘Is the counseling helping you?’ And if it is, we want you to stay, but no one child has said ‘yes,’” Davis said. “It seems like reading a book to learn about children it probably not the way to learn about children.”
At Jared’s house, in the end, Davis’s search came back empty handed -- no drugs were found.
“Every room in your home is clear of narcotics,” Davis told his mother. “Does that make you feel better?”
Jared’s mother Kelly breathed a sigh of relief and hugged her son.
“I’m proud of you and I’m sorry,” she said to him. “You forgive me? You know I love you right and I did this for you.”