Free Teen Drug Tests In Oregon Worries ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
July 7, 1999 12:00 am

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MOLALLA, OR — In a move that has civil liberties advocates worried, a local police department is encouraging parents to bring in their children for free drug testing. The program, offered by the Molalla Police Department, is likely to be expanded to 10 other Oregon cities this year, the Oregonian reported today.

State and national police groups say the test, a urinalysis that detects four families of drugs in less than 15 minutes, might be the first free drug testing administered by police in the US. Molalla Police Chief Rob Elkins said he considers the program a success: in 1998, 59 of the 67 children brought in by parents tested positive, the Oregonian reported.

Although police say participants won’t be prosecuted or tracked by authorities, critics see distinct flaws with such testing. Civil rights advocates told the Oregonian that they fear police might use positive results against participants in the future, while independent testing laboratories question the accuracy of the tests.

The paper reports that the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police in April voted to expand the testing to 10 other cities and will pay the $10 cost per test for the pilot program.

Parents and their children must sign waivers acknowledging the test results are confidential.

David Fidanque, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, told the paper that he hopes the waivers are “iron clad.”

“I think testing ought to be between kids, families and their doctors,” he said. “Parents should not expect the government to be parents to their kids.”

Issues of drug test accuracy also come into play, the paper reported. While account managers at Roche, the company that makes the ‘Test Cup’ used by the police to detect cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, morphine, and the active ingredient in marijuana, say that the test results are as accurate as those done in labs, lab technicians disagree.

“All those tests should be confirmed by a lab when they are positive,” Jim Lanson, a technician at Public Service Laboratories Inc. in Tigard told the Oregonian.

John Bissell, Director of the Analytical Systems Inc. in Portland, told the paper that parents should also be aware that over-the-counter medications and some foods could skew the results, and that parents should request a confirmation if they receive positive results.

Both Bissell and Lanson said their firms charge $27.50 to test for the categories of drugs tested in Molalla.

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