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A testing professional earns parental approval

April 1, 2008
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Total Diagnostic Services (TDS) Inc. couldn't have a more appropriate name considering all it has experienced in the drug testing arena since its establishment in 1980. The Livonia, Michigan, company worked with laboratories on the diagnostics end of the business before venturing into the marketing of on-site drug tests for rehabilitation programs and criminal justice agencies. Frustrated with the notion that his products were reaching people after they already had a full-blown problem with substances, company president David Prichard searched for a new ally: parents trying to maintain a positive influence on their school-age children.

Today, while Prichard's company still works with treatment agencies and judicial programs, he focuses a growing amount of his time on spreading the word about two vehicles for reaching concerned parents. Both carry the acronym “L.E.A.D.”, referring to Law Enforcement Against Drugs and Local Educators Against Drugs. TDS makes available to law enforcement agencies and local school districts a quantity of at-home drug tests that parents can voluntarily pick up and use at home as a substance use prevention/deterrence measure.

After eight years in operation (the law enforcement effort began in 2000 and the education piece got started two years later), L.E.A.D. today reaches about 350 communities in 19 states across the country, with about 90% of that business involving law enforcement agencies. Prichard hopes the substance use counseling community eventually will discover opportunities to link into a program about which many parents clearly are enthusiastic. “Someday treatment providers will start to discover us,” Prichard says.

Participating communities

Prichard says law enforcement agencies have tended to be more responsive to the opportunity to make at-home drug testing kits available to parents than school districts have. The typical participating law enforcement agency covers a jurisdiction of fewer than 1 million residents, he says, and is often run by a younger chief who tends to be more proactive about issues of drug prevention.

School superintendents are inclined to worry about privacy issues regarding testing of students, even though in the case of these programs school districts simply are a conduit for making the tests available for parents to pick up—only the parent and child are meant to know the results of any test that is administered. Prichard says full-time school resource officers from the local police agency are emerging as a force in youth substance use prevention and might help convince more districts to make the kits available.

TDS distributes to participating agencies a quantity of kits that the agencies can in turn make available to parents—in most communities, these are available for purchase by parents at cost. The kits include a saliva test for alcohol use and a four-panel at-home test for illegal drugs (to detect use of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine). The kits include instructions written at a 6th-grade reading level, and agencies are encouraged to include in the kits information about community resources that parents might want to explore if their child tests positive.

But Prichard says the tests can give parents an important boost even if they never administer one to their child. “One mother said to me, ‘I never opened it. I just put it on the refrigerator,’” he says.

Agencies have identified a variety of ways to finance the purchase of the kits. In Oakland County, Michigan, the sheriff's department since 2004 has used asset forfeiture proceeds from drug crimes to buy the tests.

Prichard is a believer in the ongoing advancements in drug testing technology, and says he is deriving great satisfaction in reaching families with a front-end strategy that gives them accurate information on which they can act. “It's a thrill to do this, because honestly we're losing this battle [against drug use],” he says.

Provider views

Ironically, even though Prichard still sees many treatment professionals and programs falling short in integrating testing into their operations, he also credits some therapists with having given these at-home testing kits their initial momentum. “What we started to find was once therapists accepted the idea that testing was part of treatment, they'd give parents our number and tell them to call us, telling parents that they could monitor their children,” he says.

He hopes treatment professionals and agencies in participating communities will see the L.E.A.D. programs as an opportunity to make parents, school officials, and law enforcement agencies more aware of their services (more information on the L.E.A.D. programs is available at http://www.leadtds.com).

Prichard says his outreach to treatment agencies over the years has yielded somewhat disappointing results, leading him to ask occasionally what it is that agencies don't want to know about their clients. But he also says this attitude is understandable to a degree. “Agencies get so invested in their clients, so they really feel a setback when it occurs,” he says.