Suffolk gives out drug test kits for concerned parents
To help parents detect drug use among their children, Suffolk law enforcement is now giving out free home test kits.
The kits, bought with money seized from drug dealers and available at the Suffolk sheriff's office, allow people to home-test urine for traces of six categories of drugs, said Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.
If the test is positive, parents can begin the process of helping their kids stop using drugs, he said at a news conference in Riverhead Thursday.
"We need parents to take action," he said.
District Attorney Thomas Spota struck an urgent note as he said heroin in particular was a plague "all over our streets in Suffolk County."
"The time to act is now," he said.
Jerry Gentile, who founded the support group Parents Against Drug Dealing after he lost his son Gerard, 39, to heroin last year, said that parents shouldn't worry that they are violating their children's rights.
"Now is the time for each one of us to be more accountable," he said. Later, Gentile said that the larger goal was worth the intrusion. "That's your child. That's your most treasured possession," he said with tears in his eyes.
Spota said the home kits aren't going to be used to collect evidence in a criminal case, and that people can obtain the kits anonymously. Counseling resources will be available for parents who discover their children are abusing drugs, he said.
The Nassau police department runs an anonymous substance testing program where people can bring an unknown substance to any precinct for a check, Det. Michael Bitsko said.
DeMarco said he has not heard of other jurisdictions handing out home drug testing kits, which he estimated cost about $1 each.
In a booklet for parents, the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy actually cautions against drug testing outside a medical arena.
"Drug testing of kids is a complicated issue and is best done within the context of a doctor-patient-parent relationship," the booklet said.
But another drug counselor said the kit can be a powerful first step for families.
"It acts as a deterrent and it opens lines of communication up. Sometimes the kids don't want to do it and they'll talk to you about what they've done," said Mark Epley, the mayor of Southampton Village, who is the executive director of the rehab facility Seafield Center.
Epley said he personally home-tests his four children. "It's another tool a parent has available to help him," he said.
November 19, 2009 By SOPHIA CHANG