It's not unusual for schools, in some instances, to test kids for drugs or alcohol, and home-testing kits have been available to parents for years.
But law enforcement and schools in Placer County, Calif., are teaming up to make it easier for parents to keep tabs on their kids.
They're offering parents home alcohol and drug screening kits at deeply discounted prices -- all for sale at the Sheriff's Department and six high schools.
While some suggest parents or guardians could hurt their relationships with their wards by asking for a urine sample, backers say having the facts can spark an honest conversation.
The department and high schools will sell a 10-panel drug screening kit for $10; it sells for about $40 in stores. Alcohol test strips sell for $2.
Drug tests will give results for the use of amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates, PCP, marijuana, ecstasy, methadone, barbiturates and benzodiazepines.
The Placer County partnership is unusual.
Laurie Bettencourt, a deputy who launched the program and works as a school resource officer at Chana High School, said deputies aren't asking parents to turn in kids who test positive for illicit drugs.
"It's not meant as an investigative tool or to condemn parents," she said. "It's meant to keep kids safe."
Bettencourt advises parents whose children are caught using alcohol or other drugs to talk about it with their kids and keep an even closer eye on them. Spend more time with the kids and their friends, Bettencourt said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among American youth, with use at 21 percent in 2009.
Parents can find plenty of test kits.
The North Carolina-based Home Health Testing firm sells drug-testing kits through the Internet for $9. Nearly half of the company's customers are parents who "just want to know what their kids are up to," said Robyn Schelenz, a company spokeswoman. "Parents sometimes get concerned about their child's behavior, and we offer them a way for them to see if their kids are being honest."
Other parents use the testing kits to launch a healthy dialogue, she said.
Brian James, who operates Just Say No Medical Screening in Rancho Cordova, Calif., administers a drug test on teenagers hauled in by parents who suspect illicit drugs, "and most of the time, parents are right."
But "sometimes, they're wrong, and everybody leaves happy," James said, with kids voicing an understandable refrain: "I told you so."
Marsha Rosenbaum, founder of the Safety First project at the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, has another approach: Skip the testing and go straight to talking.
Kids believe they are entitled to some level of privacy, she said. Asking your kid to pee in a cup could further erode a rocky relationship.
"Parents who believe that drug testing kids will be some magic bullet will be sadly mistaken," she said. "Drug education and communication is a much better way to go."
(Contact Ed Fletcher at efletcher(at)sacbee.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)