How to tell if your child is taking drugs ... without asking

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Worried parents who fear their children may be dabbling in drugs can test them without their knowledge using the pounds 33 Drug Alert kit, which went on sale in chemists last week.

The product, which consists of a swab that can be wiped across clothing, furniture, the telephone and the child's belongings, has been developed in the United States by the pharmaceutical company Barringer Research. The manufacturers claim it can detect Ecstasy, heroin and cannabis. Parents can either buy it across the counter or order it by phone using a credit card. Once the test has been carried out, the swab is sent off for analysis. If the result is positive, parents are sent a confidential report and information on counselling and support groups.

"The product can allay parents' fears or, if the test is positive, gives them a chance to talk to the child and seek professional help," says Ken Lodge, managing director of Drug Alert. There will be no police involvement. They have no objections and have no interest in the results."

Sue Harris, a mother who recently found out that her 15-year-old son, David, has been taking Ecstasy, says: "It is a good idea in principle. If I had used the test, I might have found out sooner. But if my son thought I had been spying on him, it would have made the situation worse. We would have totally alienated him."

Mike Goodman, of the national drugs advice agency Release, is less equivocal: "This product won't really help; in some cases it may just up the ante. Parents shouldn't panic and rush out to buy this sort of thing. They should seek information from any drugs advice organisation, then talk to their children and keep the lines of communication open."

Mr Lodge disagrees: "If you're concerned your child may be taking drugs, you have already gone beyond a position of trust. It may be thought of as spying, but the fact that parents are looking after their child's interests overrides that." He insists the product is not being launched just to cash in on parents' fears. "We want to give something back to society so we're talking to drug charities and local authorities about providing information to parents and other interested parties."


Drug Alert: 0171-355 1911; Release: 0171-729 9904.

Sue and David Harris are pseudonyms.