Eds: Updates with poison center director’s comment.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Steve Patrick sees it all the time: the looks of concerned parents suspecting or struggling with their children’s drug use.
As the owner of a drug testing business in Hurricane with companies, schools and universities as his primary clients, Patrick said it breaks his heart whenever he has to charge $50 when parents show up seeking answers for their kids’ behavior.
So he’s offering them free tests by appointment Saturday.
“I personally know friends who have had trouble with their kids,” Patrick said. “I think this is a way to give back.”
Patrick said it’s the first time he’s offered such an event and he’s not sure what the response will be. So far, Patrick hasn’t seen many families sign up, but he’s hoping the word gets out and that families who know each other band together in a “you take your kid, I’ll take mine” approach.
“I have a feeling there will be some walk-ins,” Patrick said. “It’s a very difficult thing for parents to do, to say, ‘hey, let’s go check you out.’ There’s a push-back from kids. It’s tough.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the nation’s second-highest rate of poisoning deaths. Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, head of the West Virginia Poison Center, has said such deaths are predominantly overdoses from prescriptions drugs.
And state health officials say substance abuse plays a role in one-fifth of state births.
CEO Michael Lotterstein of test kit supplier The Drug Test Consultants of Tarzana, Calif., said Patrick’s idea to test children for free is unique.
“You don’t see if often,” Lotterstein said. “I think Steve is an innovator. I think what he’s doing is great. Rarely would you see someone offering this.”
Many websites, including major retailers, already offer U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved home kits ranging from single-drug tests to a dozen illicit and prescription drugs.
For families that reserve a spot from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Patrick will test for 10 classes of illicit and prescription drugs at Reliant Drug Test Solutions.
They include cocaine; marijuana; amphetamines, including Ecstacy; barbiturates; methamphetamine; opiates such as heroin, morphine, and codeine; PCP, methadone, Xanax and similar benzodiazepines; and oxycodone.
Patrick said the parents will learn the results almost immediately because the urine tests are done on site.
“So when the parents leave, they’ll have an understanding of what’s going on,” Patrick said. “We will not keep any records whatsoever. Even the test will go with the parents.”
Scharman said Friday if the tests lead to conversations between parents and their children about drug abuse, “that’s a great thing.”
She said parents need to understand the limitations of the tests, which don’t detect every drug and in some cases can give false positives. She said parents also need to have a plan going in to deal with potentially bad news.
“My concern is what information is given to these parents, and what then do they do?” she said. “What support is there for the parent? What’s the strategy?”
West Virginia already is doing something about the supply side of prescription drug abuse.
As part of a crackdown on pill mills and doctor shopping, a new state law limits the amount of pain drugs a doctor or clinic can dispense, speeds up the tracking of prescriptions through a statewide database and increases oversight of pain management clinics as well as methadone treatment centers. It also tightens the purchase limits of cold remedies that can be used to make methamphetamine.
Last month, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the state will devote $7.5 million to help set up and expand support services for substance abuse.
Federal prosecutors also are cracking down on illegal pill distributions and have promoted drug take-back efforts in which residents dispose of unwanted and expired prescription pills.
And a Georgia company that West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw says was a significant distributor of ingredients used to make drugs known as bath salts and synthetic marijuana has agreed not to sell or advertise its chemicals in the state and agreed to turn over a list of West Virginia customers.
Patrick said he isn’t testing for bath salts. The cost of administering the tests can be expensive, especially if few people show up on Saturday. If there’s a solid turnout, “we will add those (bath salt) tests next year,” he said.
Patrick’s background is in human resources. Four years ago, a company he worked for was sold and he was laid off, so he started the drug testing firm.
“It was just something I was passionate about,” said Patrick, whose children are grown and he now has seven grandchildren.
“I’ve probably talked to my grandkids more about drugs than I ever did my kids,” he said.