The drug-abuse crisis among teenagers and young adults isn't abating.
Prescription drugs, especially opioids, are a growing threat to the health of young people, with 6 percent of teens 12 to 17 saying they use the drugs for non-medical reasons. And in 2014, prescription drugs caused the overdose death of 1,741 young people ages 18 to 25, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
If those statistics aren't alarming enough, studies reveal that 3 percent of teens have used heroin and that drug's use is on the rise. In 2009, 21,000 teens sought treatment for heroin addiction, compared to 4,400 10 years earlier, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
So how can parents concerned their teen might be using opioids or other drugs find out for sure? Some parents seek to confirm their suspicions with one of the many drug-testing kits available at the corner pharmacy.
But clever teens and free-market ingenuity are making the accuracy of those urine drug tests questionable. In fact, the urine drug test cheating industry is estimated to be near $1 billion, with products easily purchased on the web, including synthetic urine, substitute urine and even devices aimed solely at defeating the drug test.
"Unfortunately, there's a whole industry of products out there that help people cheat the drug tests," says Dr. Matt McCarty, CEO and founder of Genotox Laboratories (www.genotoxlabs.com). "Even if you decide to make your child use a urine test, savvy teenagers know that once you send them into the restroom alone they can substitute a friend's urine or synthetic urine and trick you."
The challenge for parents is to confirm that their handy drug-testing kit really is testing their teen's urine and not someone else's. They aren't the only ones who face that predicament. Drug-test cheating is a problem that human resource departments, law enforcement and other agencies or businesses that test for drugs encounter as well.
Cheating the tests also is a problem when monitoring patients who are taking opioid medications under a doctor's care, or who are undergoing rehab and recovery from addiction.
But there are ways to foil the cheaters. Genotox Labs, for example, developed a product called ToxProtectTm that adds a cheek swab to the urine-collection process so the DNA can be matched.
"With a DNA test, there's no maybe about it," McCarty says. "It either matches or it doesn't match."
What might lead a parent to insist on a drug test for their teen? The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence says there are drug-abuse warning signs parents can look for, and McCarty says all parents should be on the lookout for these signs. They include:
• Physical and health signs. Bloodshot eyes; pupils smaller or larger than normal; frequent nosebleeds; changes in appetite or sleep patterns; sudden weight loss or weight gain; deterioration in personal rooming or physical appearance; and impaired or unstable coordination.
• Behavioral signs. Skipping class and declining grades; loss of interest in extracurricular activities; acting isolated, silent or withdrawn; demanding more privacy and avoiding eye contact; and sudden change in relationships and friends.
• Psychological warning signs. Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing; periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation; lack of motivation and inability to focus; appearing fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid for no apparent reason.
While schools and other agencies may provide some help, ultimately it's up to the parents to address a teen's drug problem, McCarty says.
"All evidence suggests that preventing drug abuse starts at home," he says. "It's not someone else's responsibility. It's the person who has the problem and their family who need to deal with it. That's why if you test your kid for drugs at home, you want to make sure you're getting their results and aren't letting them fool you."
About Dr. Matt McCarty, M.D.
Dr. Matt McCarty is a board certified, fellowship trained physician specializing in chronic pain management. Aware of the growing need for medication monitoring and personalized medicine, he founded Genotox Laboratories (www.genotoxlabs.com), a rapidly growing national reference lab providing medication monitoring services through urine drug screen confirmations and pharmacogenomics testing. He believes that earlier and better monitoring by all physicians prescribing controlled substances could lead to lower rates of addiction, diversion and overdose deaths. With his team at Genotox he invented a patent pending DNA authenticated sample matching method called ToxProtectTM. It ensures urine submitted for drug testing is matched to a specific donor. ToxProtectTM uncovers the use of substitute and synthetic urine and detects substance misuse, abuse and relapse when all other urine drug testing fails. He hopes that through the most advanced genomic testing platform offered by Genotox, a clinician can uncover substance misuse abuse and relapse allowing for earlier intervention.