prescription painkillers
Addiction & Substance Overuse

How to Tell if Your Teen Is Using Drugs

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 ToxProtect™ 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 grooming or physical appearance; and impaired or unstable coordination.