By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 8:59 PM
ST. LOUIS -- Teen drug users know better than to cross paths with police officers walking the beat or school principals roaming the hallways. Now there's a new enemy in the generational war on drugs: drug testing-parents.
The explosion of Internet commerce has been a boon for sellers of home drug-testing kits, who can send their products directly to concerned parents without fear of embarrassment or nosy neighbors.
At least one company, TestMyTeen.com of Fenton, is taking an even more direct approach by donating up to $5,000 worth of testing equipment directly to school districts in Missouri, which in turn are asked to spread the message to parents.
"There's a big gap between reality and what parents think is reality," said company owner Mason Duchatschek. "They all think drugs are a big issue, but not with their kids."
Duchatschek, 38, owns another company that provides drug-testing equipment to corporations such as Miller Brewing Co. and Purina Mills. Early last year, he created the Internet-based business, seeking out interested school districts at trade shows, school board conventions and cold calls.
School districts in Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin have embraced the program, which offers participating schools a percentage of sales income from parent purchases to be used for school drug-prevention efforts.
The schools, in turn, promote the home drug-test kits by hanging banners in gyms and auditoriums, making announcements during football games and school plays and circulating flyers with slogans such as "No thanks. Our parents test us."
"It's another (drug prevention) resource that's available," said Jim Heiden, superintendent of the Cudahy, Wis., school district in suburban Milwaukee.
The effectiveness of such measures, though, is subject to debate.
Drug prevention researchers warn about the prospect of false-positive tests and note the lack of evidence suggesting such measures lead to a decrease in drug use.
Other critics cite the invasive nature of the tests and the damage done to the parent-child bond.
"It's a sacrifice of human dignity," said Dan Viets, an attorney for the mid-Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
School participation in home drug testing by parents is an "end around" a Supreme Court ruling that limits random drug testing of students unless they are involved in extracurricular activities, he said.
"When the schools get involved they're going beyond what the Supreme Court allows," said Viets, a criminal defense attorney who often represents people accused of violating drug laws.
Heiden said he shares some of those privacy concerns and doesn't ask Duchatschek to provide statistics on the number of kits sold in his district as well as the results. He also decided to not participate in the company's "School Alliance" rebate program.
"I don't want to make money off other people," said Heiden.
For $15 per kit, parents can conduct a urinalysis that provides instant results to detect the presence of 10 types of drugs in their child's system: marijuana; cocaine; amphetamine; methamphetamine; barbiturates; opiates; oxycodone; MDMA, or Ecstasy; benzodiazepines; and proxyphene.
There are also saliva swabs, which Duchatschek notes can be easily stored in a car's glove compartment, as well as oral tests that detect alcohol and tobacco use.
"It makes parents the bad guy," he said. "That's a socially acceptable excuse that every kid can use without feeling like a chump."
For Mike Peterson, of St. Clair, home drug-testing kits "absolutely saved my son's life."
Peterson began administering the tests two years ago, when his 14-year-old son Benjamin grew surly and distant and brought home poor grades from school.
The first test came back positive for four categories: cocaine, barbiturates, marijuana and amphetamines.
When Benjamin Peterson denied using drugs, his father took the test himself: The results were clean.
Two years and one painful withdrawal later, Mike Peterson continues to randomly test his son, using a computer-derived testing schedule generated by TestMyTeen.com software and a reward/consequences contract also modeled after the company's sample material.
If Benjamin tests positive, he loses his driving privileges and cell phone use for one month. A second positive test and he loses both for good.
"I let him know he had a new best friend _ that drug test kit," Mike Peterson said.
Heiden, the Wisconsin superintendent, said students at the middle and high school in his school district "have been very accepting of the whole thing."
And Peterson, a computer business owner, said testing his child for drugs was a sign of caring, not betrayal.
"If you really love your kids, you're not going to be afraid to test them," he said. "If they're clean, they're not going to have a problem."
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