Balto. County to provide drug test kits

Results immediate for parents requesting exam for children

1st such program in state

Product can identify 6 drug categories, says abuse agency

January 25, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is about to unveil its latest weapon in the war on drugs: instant drug testing for children.

The Baltimore County Bureau of Substance Abuse will begin a pilot program this week that will let parents know within minutes if their child has taken drugs and, if so, provide immediate counseling.

It is the first government program in Maryland to offer such a service, and it is being launched in a county where more than half of all high school seniors admit to having used an illegal drug at least once. And it might become a model for similar efforts statewide.

"We intend to follow the program's progress and, if it's successful, to what extent it might be replicated in other areas of the state," said Thomas W. Davis, director of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's alcohol and drug abuse administration.

Michael M. Gimbel, director of the county substance abuse bureau, said that most commercial drug test kits must be sent to a lab and that results generally aren't available for a week or 10 days. Results are often given over the telephone -- sometimes with counseling over the phone.

Gimbel said telephone counseling is not as effective as having a therapist in the room to help deal with the problem.

"By having a counselor there, you have someone in the room who knows how to deal with a positive result, how to handle a family in crisis," Gimbel said. "If a parent gets results and they're positive, they don't necessarily know what to do."

The benefit of having a counselor was evident last week when a seventh-grader expelled from Pine Grove Middle School in Carney for possessing marijuana showed up with his mother at the bureau's drug counseling center in Timonium to be tested.

The mother, who asked that her name not be used, said her 12-year-old son has admitted to experimenting with marijuana in the past. But she is convinced that her son was only holding a small amount of marijuana for another pupil who took it home and smoked it.

`I told you so'

The youth and his mother were interviewed by counselor Jacqueline Foreman, and the boy filled out an extensive questionnaire. He was then brought into Foreman's office, where he and his mother were presented with a plastic cup.

"Here, I think you know what to do," Foreman said, handing the cup to the boy.

When the youth came back a few minutes later, Foreman, wearing surgical gloves, twisted the cap onto the cup until it gave a few clicks, which started the testing process. The cup includes a tiny thermometer to prove that the urine is at body temperature and just provided.

Within a few minutes, two bars began appearing next to the labels for each of six drug categories, showing that the boy was drug-free.

The youth showed no signs of surprise as he turned to his mother.

"I told you so," he said.

FDA officials say there are at least a half-dozen such "rapid result drug test kits" being marketed for use by emergency rooms, personnel departments, parole boards, public safety officials, transit agencies and others.

Most of them, including the one being used by Baltimore County, are restricted to use by doctors and counselors working under a doctor's supervision, said Sharon Snider, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration.

Gimbel came up with the idea for the Baltimore County program about six months ago, when a sales representative for Point of Care Technologies of Rockville visited his office with the company's version of a urine-based drug test.

As a drug counselor and administrator for 18 years, Gimbel had seen his share of such kits. He liked this one -- called the Genie Cup -- because it offered immediate results.

"If someone has to wait five to seven days, anything could happen. The child could run away. There could be violence in the home or wherever people get their results," Gimbel said.

Gimbel calls the program PASS, an acronym for Prompt Adolescent Substance-abuse Screening. It will be available to the public starting this week at the offices of the bureau's Northern Area Treatment Program, 2 W. Aylesbury Road in Timonium, and the Eastern Area Treatment Program, 9100 Franklin Square Drive in Rosedale.

Drug counselors will be available at the centers during office hours and three nights a week, and appointments will be made within 24 hours of a parent's phone call, Gimbel said.

Gimbel said no parents will be turned away for an inability to pay, but a $50 break-even fee helps pay for the staff time and for the cups, being supplied to the county at a discount by Point of Care Technologies, the Rockville manufacturer.

"Every kid is vulnerable right now, and if this gives parents a way to feel comfortable that their kids are clean, then it will be well worth it," Gimbel said.

Gimbel's office performs about 300 drug assessments a year on youths who must complete a mandatory drug counseling program because they have been expelled from school for drugs or ordered to drug treatment by juvenile courts.

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