Pros and Cons of At-Home Drug Testing for Teens

Teen home drug testing

OTC testing kits offer parents a first step if you suspect your teen might be struggling with substance abuse. Plus: A look at five home-test products

By William Wagner

September 29, 2020

Is my kid taking drugs? How do I know if it’s time to get outside help? These are tricky questions to answer if you fear your teenager might be a candidate for substance abuse treatment.

You might think you recognize some of the signs of a drug problem—dramatic mood swings, sneakiness, plummeting grades in school—but doubts and denial linger. Some of these are simply the hallmarks of being a teenager, and treatment can seem like a drastic course of action if you’re unsure and your child denies it. Compounding matters, many kids are adept at hiding their addiction; they have a seemingly uncanny ability to stay one step ahead of their parents.

Enter over-the-counter home drug tests, which mostly are urine-oriented. These screenings are simple to administer, and the at-home factor produces less familial strife than trying to drag your teen to a lab based on little more than suspicion. With caveats, they can provide the information you feel you need to take that next, possibly live-saving step into treatment.

Over-the-counter home drug tests, which mostly are urine-oriented, are simple to administer, and the at-home factor produces less familial strife than trying to drag your teen to a lab based on little more than suspicion.”

The Caveats
  • They aren’t foolproof. Many tests tout something akin to “99% accuracy,” but this is a stretch. False negatives are common. Only tests administered in a laboratory setting, such as a treatment center, are sure to deliver definitive results.
  • They are relatively easy to “beat.” There are several ways to tamper with, or “adulterate,” a screening, starting with diluting the urine sample with water, which minimizes the drug levels and can render them undetectable. Other techniques for skewing a result include introducing a foreign substance into the sample, such as bleach, eyedrops, salt or soap. For the sake of a pure result, you should be present in the bathroom when your child is taking the test.
  • They don’t usually serve a preventative purpose. If you think the specter of a home drug test will deter your teen from using drugs—thereby enabling you to avoid treatment altogether—you’re likely mistaken. Studies indicate that random at-home drug screenings rarely curb a young user’s behavior.
  • They don’t detect hallucinogens. If hallucinogens such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms are among the potential issues, a lab test is required—either of urine (within 24 hours of using), blood or hair follicles.
Best Practices 

Despite those shortcomings, home drug tests are a viable place to start.

  • At-home kits most commonly are used to test for marijuana, but depending on the number of “panels” provided in a product, they can detect several different substances. For example, a four-panel test might screen for marijuana, cocaine, benzodiazepines and opiates. Or a seven-panel test might target marijuana, cocaine, benzodiazepines, opiates, PCP, barbiturates and amphetamines. A seven-panel test is more likely to be utilized by an employer, especially one where heavy machinery is operated, than by you at home. Generally, the more panels in the test, the higher the price.
  • The optimal time to administer the test is right after your child wakes up in the morning; this is when the urine is most concentrated. Furthermore, experts advise providing no warning, as this will lessen the chance of your child being able to plot how to taint the test. If the screening reads positive, it’s recommended that you send the sample to a lab associated with the kit company for confirmation.
Overview: Five Home-Drug Tests

You’ll find an array of products at drugstores like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and the like, or on web outlets such as Amazon. Here’s a sampling of frequently used at-home drug tests:

Easy@Home’s one-panel test (marijuana) is its best-known offering, although the company has other options with more panels. The one-panel test is noted for its ease of use (hence the name). Cleared by the FDA, it comes in packs of 6, 15, 50, 100 and 200 tests.

Care Check
Similar to Easy@Home, Care Check has a version that tests for only marijuana and a multi-panel option. This FDA-cleared product is known for its simplicity and reliability.

ütest+, another single-panel screening (marijuana), is lauded for its sensitivity and the quickness with which it delivers a result. Additionally, it’s relatively inexpensive. Also available are a marijuana saliva test and single-panel opiate and fentanyl screenings.

PreScreen Plus Mini
Relatively new to the market and cleared by the FDA, PreScreen Plus Mini has a name that is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually a behemoth, with 12 panels that range from marijuana to ecstasy to K2/spice, a highly dangerous form of synthetic marijuana. Although it has garnered solid reviews so far for its affordability, accuracy and ease of use, PreScreen Plus Mini isn’t as widely available as some other tests.

Identify Diagnostics
Its five-panel test, cleared by the FDA, screens for marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine and meth. Sources indicate that it has a better capacity than other tests to detect certain opiates. Identify Diagnostics comes in varieties of up to 14 panels, but the higher-panel products are geared more toward employers.

If your teen does wind up in treatment, whether it’s inpatient or outpatient, laboratory-grade drug screenings will be administered regularly. But until you reach that point—or unless you reach that point—an over-the-counter home drug test is an option worth considering, parents.

Photo: Mike Von