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Seeing Is Believing: Teens’ Parents Could Soon Use Eye-Scan Drug Test

So say several local substance abuse counselors who want to bring a new type of drug testing machine to Martin County.

They say the cutting-edge computer technology—which scans the human eye to detect drug use—could help local parents seeking more effective ways to prevent their children from turning to drugs.

Currently, few parents inquire about drug testing options for their children. That might change, counselors say, if detecting drug use didn’t require a urine or blood sample—if a drug test becomes as simple as peering into an ATM machine.

That’s possible with the PassPoint Substance Abuse Screener, which determines the presence of drugs and alcohol by recording the way the eye reacts to light.

Martin County officials hope to purchase a PassPoint machine—for $100,000– by January, said Anita Cocoves, the county’s Health and Human Services Administrator.

Cocoves said if the plan would be to set up the machine in a location with easy access for concerned parents, such as a kiosk outside health offices.

“Now, the parent can say to their kid ‘I’m picking you up at the party at midnight but I’m taking you by the machine. So tell me the truth, what have you been doing?’” Cocoves said.

Assistant State Attorney Pam Roebuck, Martin County’s juvenile prosecutor, acknowledged the subject of drug testing can create “great conflict” between parent and child.

They’ll accuse the parents of distrust,” Roebuck said. “It’s an individual parenting style, to trust—but verify.”

Twelve or 13 is not too young to begin this process,” she added. “I’ve talked to many kids in this community who say by the eighth grade or before … they’re exposed to everything that’s available across this country.”

How It Works

The best argument for parents to drug test their kids is it gives them “an out” when dealing with peer pressure to dabble in drugs, Roebuck said. “It gives them a reason to say no.

“That’s where the PassPoint machine can help, Roebuck and Cocoves say.

“If the kid knows that there’s a possibility of being tested, he’s going to have more of a possibility of keeping in line,” Cocoves said. For parents who want their children tested, the process would work like this:

First, a “baseline” test would be done, a combination of the eye scan and an urine analysis to ensure a “clean reading”—that there are no drugs in the system. After the baseline is established, if parents suspect the child is using drugs, they would return to the PassPoint location.

An initial location could be the current Health and Human Services offices on East Ocean Boulevard.

In about 18 months, when the offices move into the new county community service building on Willoughby Boulevard, Cocoves hopes PassPoint could be set up with easy access to parents and their children.

“You could have an alcove that’s lighted, and you’ve got a camera there just like you would outside an ATM,” she said.

The PassPoint machine is about the size of a filing cabinet and looks similar to vision machines used at driver’s license offices. A test takes about 30-seconds and can be self-administered by punching a pre- assigned ID number into a key pad on the machine, Cocoves said.

Similar to a urine test, the PassPoint scans for the eight most frequently detected substances, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol.

Cocoves said a huge advantage over urine-based tests is that the results can’t be altered to mask a positive result.

“It’s not like they could send in someone else, because the computer knows what your eyeball looks like,” she said.

She said PassPoint is “just as accurate” as other drug tests, such as urine, hair and saliva tests.

Paying For It

In Martin County, officials have identified two potential sources for the $100,000 cost of PassPoint.

One is a teen court fee trust account, which contains about $200,000 and is administered by Chief Circuit Judge Cynthia Angelos. Another possibility is the county’s Drug Trust Fund, which contains about $62,000 in fees collected from drug court programs, Cocoves said.

Those funds are allocated by County Administrator Russ Blackburn, generally by recommendation from the county’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Advisory Committee. The advisory group, appointed by the county commission, is expected to appeal to county officials to help buy the system, Cocoves said.

Martin County’s PassPoint primarily would be used be used for juveniles and adults who are going through drug court and receive regular testing. By saving the money now spent on chemicals and other expenses involved in urine drug testing, Cocoves estimated PassPoint could probably pay for itself in five years.

She said she hopes parents would be charged only a nominal fee to have their children tested to establish a baseline. They then would be re- tested for free, as often as they want.

Currently, Cocoves said she doesn’t see many parents request information about how to test their kids for drug use. And that puzzles her.

“I don’t think they realize it’s available to them,” she said.

A urine drug-screening kit is available for $5 from the Health and Human Services office at 38 East Ocean Blvd. According to department records, 35 kits were sold last year to parents who wanted to test their children for drug use, Cocoves noted.

Diane White, a case manager with Health and Human Services, said that beyond drug court cases, she fields about six drug-testing inquiries a from local parents a month.

“That’s not many at all,” White said. “It’s here and we are able to do it.”

A Lot of Denial

Health professionals find the few requests for testing surprising, especially in view of last year’s Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, which measures teenage drug and alcohol use throughout the state. In 2002, Martin County ranked second in the state in teenage marijuana use and seventh in the state in alcohol use.

“You’ve got all this use going on and yet, you have resources like this that aren’t being used by the community,” said Cocoves. “There’s a lot of denial that goes on in the community.

At a “community mobilization” workshop Wednesday, students and experts agreed parental denial is a key obstacle to developing a strategy to combat teenage drug and alcohol use.

Some Parents Resist

Robyn Cleghorn, the safe and drug free schools coordinator for the Martin County School District, said many parents would have a difficult time testing their children for drugs.

“We’ve got parents that won’t go into their kid’s bedroom because they see that as a violation of privacy,” she said. “I really have no idea how many parents would take advantage of something like that.”

Cleghorn said most teenagers, if asked, would probably say the ones who are not on drugs would volunteer to be tested. The ones who are using would likely put up a fight.

“The kid that’s displaying signs or symptoms … is going to be resistant and they probably are not going to want to get in the car with the parent to get their eyes scanned,” she said.

Parents already dealing with a child who has used drugs would be more likely to use the PassPoint system, Cleghorn said, but added that overall, those “are very few parents.”

“They are not beating down the doors to go see their doctors right now to have their kid drug tested,” she said.

Posted by A. Shapiro
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