When Sunny Cloud returned home from work early one Sunday evening to the the sight of her 15-year-old son smoking a joint, it was the shock of a lifetime and the beginning of a political debate.
Concerned that her child was dabbling in harder drugs, she dragged him to the nearest hospital for a routine drug test, only to balk at the insensitivity of the nurse and the $120 price tag of the test.
Since reality is often the mother of invention, Cloud’s next step was to develop a $40 home drug testing kit that can be used by parents worried that their children may be abusing amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, benzodiazepines, opiates or alcohol.
Parents began buying the test in droves and Cloud’s career as an activist and a businesswoman had begun. However, she had missed one small detail – the test had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cloud claims that she has not applied for approval because the administration has a history of only approving such tests with a doctor’s prescription. She says she wants the very personal ordeal of drug testing to remain within the home.
Now, Republicans have jumped on Cloud’s invention as a campaign issue, using the possibility of limited FDA approval as an example of the Clinton administration’s soft stance on drugs.
This has prompted the FDA to bend under the pressure of the GOP and voting parents. Approval is becoming more of a possibility, and, only last week, Vice President Al Gore used Cloud’s plight as an example of unnecessary government red tape.
However, before the FDA grants parents the rights to test their children for drugs and alcohol at any time, with only a $40 fee, they should reconsider why they have only offered such tests limited approval in the past.
Cloud’s test is a good idea born of a genuine need. Her statement that “drug use is more the norm than the exception now,” is a sad truth in many areas of the United States. However, no matter how useful her test is, Cloud and the FDA should consider the many ways that it can be misused.
It is true that, like Cloud, many parents would have a valid reason for wanting their children tested for drugs. For those parents who would receive a positive result, the test would be a life-saver. Yet, there are overly suspicious parents who would abuse the test, using it as punishment for the many times their children have come home late, received less-than-positive grades or misbehaved in any way. Such use of Cloud’s test would border on child abuse.
There is also the possibility that drug users may order the test for themselves, to ensure that their drug use is below the noticeable level before undergoing a school or company test.
If the FDA approved the test with a doctor’s prescription, these and many other methods of misuse would be prevented. The doctor would be able to ask specifically why the parent needed to test their child, and they would be able to judge whether the test was being used correctly.
The test would not be any harder to obtain and, in the process of FDA approval and regulation, it would become a much more reliable means of testing for drug abuse.
Cloud should consider this before she makes the decision not to submit her test to the FDA. She should consider that even the best ideas can go astray.
And, if Cloud does submit her test, the FDA should remember that its job is to maintain the health and well being of a nation-a task that is not attached to any political agenda.
Monica Schwarze, a senior journalism major, is editorial director of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.