Teens lie about drug use, and so do their parents
Study demonstrates that drug testing, and not self-reporting, is the best way to determine drug use.
Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 03:18 PM
Photo: Steve Allen/Jupiterimages
There is a huge discrepancy between the number of at-risk teens who admit to using drugs and the number who test positive for drug use, a new study reports.
In the case of cocaine, teens' hair samples were 52 times more likely to test positive for drug use than teens were to admit to researchers they were using, despite being assured their answers would remain confidential.
But parents might want to hold the chiding: their hair revealed cocaine or opiate drug use more than five times as often as they did themselves.
"It's human nature to not want to share things that you know other people will be unhappy with," study author Dr. Virginia Delaney-Black, of Wayne State University, told Reuters Health. "I'm not surprised."
Dr. Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, who did not participate in the research, agreed.
"It's the degree of underreporting that's surprising," he said.
Previous research has found that adults often underreport their own drug use. As the new findings show, however, parents were generally more honest than their children.
During the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, Delaney-Black and her team asked more than 400 black teenagers from poor neighborhoods whether they were using cocaine or opiates, such as heroin or OxyContin.
They also asked their parents if they believed their teens were using drugs, and if they themselves were. The researchers then tested hair samples from teens and their parents.
No teens said they were using opiates, yet almost seven percent of the time they tested positive for the drug. Less than one percent admitted to using cocaine, but the researchers found traces of the drug a third of all hair samples. For both drugs, parents underestimated their own and their children's use.
Delaney-Black said addiction experts need to understand that self-report isn't enough. "You can't rely upon either what the parents know or what the child tells you," she said.
But she emphasized that the teens in the study lived in high-risk urban areas and didn't represent youngsters nationwide. They may ingest drugs without realizing it, for instance, perhaps by inhaling smoke from a user nearby.
Williams said the findings could be a problem for some agencies that aim to curb drug use, many of which can't afford to test urine or hair in every at-risk teen.
Still, he said, most youth don't use drugs -- so when they say they aren't, chances are they're telling the truth.
On the Web: Pediatrics, online October 25, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Reuters US Online Report Health News