If your teenage son or daughter is a senior at a Huntsville City or Madison County school, there's nearly an one-in-four chance he or she is experimenting with illicit drugs based on a 2006 survey.
So what's a parent to do?
There are various forms of testing, teaching and counseling available that require the teen's cooperation to get results.
But parents now have a new weapon - hair analysis. It can determine drug use during the previous 90 days according to a press release from the company which developed HairConfirm, Confirm BioSciences. It can also detect low, medium or high usage of drugs. All a parent needs is a strand of hair which can even be gleaned from a hairbrush or snipped covertly at during sleep without the knowledge of the teen.
But involuntary drug tests have their pros and cons - mostly notably the violation of trust between parent and child.
Dr. James Smith, a recently retired licensed professional counselor, says parents need to take drastic measures - even involuntary testing - if they suspect the teen is taking drugs.
"They will promise you anything and say they will never do it again," he said. "They will say they hate you and threaten to kill themselves, none of which you should believe. If you believe them, you are signing their death warrant. Drugs can kill them or greatly damage their brain."
Alcohol and prescription drugs are now considered an epidemic in this country, said Deborah Soule, executive director for the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community, a local nonprofit drug preventative and education program.
But the biggest problem, she said, is "parents are in a state of denial. They say, 'Not my kid.'
But it is many of their kids, starting about age 12, according to the 2006 PRIDE (Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education) survey commissioned every two years by the Partnership and the three local school systems (Huntsville, Madison County and Madison City).
The 2006 survey showed local drug use among high school seniors in Huntsville and Madison County at 23.5 percent, higher than the national average of 21.2 percent over a 30-day period. Madison City school seniors were only 15.5 percent likely to experiment with drugs.
"The hair analysis is great," said Smith. "Parents are not morally responsible to inform their children about the test."
Julie Collins, volunteer coordinator for Crisis Services and the mother of a 16-year-old son, agrees.
"My father was a drug addict and you bet I'd do anything I had to do if I thought my son was on drugs," said Collins, who often fields calls from parents suspecting their teens using drugs. "There is no legal obligation to tell them if they are living in your home."
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes involuntary drug tests on teens. According to its Web site (www.aap.org), a chemical analysis of urine, saliva, hair, nails and sweat may not detect all illicit drugs such as alcohol. They warn that false positives can also occur.
Soule, who says alcohol is the No. 1 drug choice of teens, believes a parent should be "up front" about giving a teen a drug test. But if that fails, she says it is a parent's responsibility to see their child is not experimenting with drugs.
"You take any measures you can to prevent them from doing drugs," she said.
Smith, Soule and Collins agree the most important thing a parent can do is to keep the lines of communication open with their children.
But Smith cautions parents not to discuss the drug problem at home.
"Do not ever, ever have a conversation of correction in the home," said Smith, formerly with the Huntsville-Madison County Mental Health Center. "The home is a safe refuge for them. If you have the conversation at home, they will resent it and will clam up and keep secrets.
"Take them outside the home to somewhere you can sit down and say, 'Let me tell you what I'm thinking. I'm fearful you are running with people doing drugs and it frightens me. You are a young adult, but you don't have good judgment to do everything on your own.'"