Tuesday’s announcement that the FDA gave its first stamp of approval to a home drug-testing kit has raised red flags in the minds of health care professionals. The product, “Dr. Brown’s Home Drug Testing System,” is being marketed by a Maryland psychologist, Theodore Brown, who told The Washington Post that his invention is “good for America.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala hailed the test as giving “parents another option … to help ensure that their children remain drug-free.”
Psychiatrist Eugene Schoenfeld, who has served as an expert witness in many civil and criminal drug cases, disagrees. “This is a case of someone who sees an opportunity to make some bucks by selling this stuff to frightened parents,” warns Schoenfeld.
Schoenfeld cautions that despite the FDA’s approval, the close observation required to obtain a proper sample would make use of the kit by parents “extremely invasive,” potentially worsening the blocks in family communication that give rise to drug problems in the first place. Dr. Andrew Weil, the author of From Chocolate to Morphine, concurs, saying that home drug-testing “encourages parents to become policemen, which poisons parent-child relationships, and has ramifications for kids’ life issues beyond drug abuse.”
Lee Leventhal of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America says the kit “could be abused,” but offers the possibility of parents creating “a teaching moment” for their children. “Anything that’s going to get us talking could be a useful tool for parents.” Rick Evans of the National Family Partnership—a network of 270 “parent-driven” anti-drug coalitions – says his group “supports the idea” of the test, with “a very large caveat that it could be damaging if parents didn’t take the time first to establish … constant dialog and consistent discipline.”
Evans stresses that parents need more than “a home number and ‘good luck’” if they discover that their children are using drugs. The inventor of the test has stated that parents will be given counseling referrals, after receiving the test results on the phone, only if they request it.
Dorothy Ehrlich of the American Civil Liberties Union declares that “the War on Drugs has created a rich market for people selling an easy fix….Manufacturers are exploiting the vulnerability that many parents feel right now.”
Ehrlich claims that “substituting coercion for communication” could further alienate young people from sources of potential education, and that using such tests as a threat sends a message to young people that “in their own homes, they have no autonomy.”