San Diego County is now offering free, instant drug tests for teens. NBC 7's Chris Chan explains why October is one of the busiest times for one local treatment center.
Drug treatment centers around the county are now offering free drug testing for teens.
The County Health and Human Services Agency is funding the tests, which provide families with results in 10 minutes and screen for 10 different drugs.
This is the first time drug testing for teens has been offered for free, according to HHSA.
Patrick Foley of the McAlister Institute, one of the treatment centers offering free tests, said the start of the new school year is a critical time for teens getting into trouble.
"After the first month, that's when parties start happening more," Foley said. "You see binge drinking happening, and you see an influx of clients coming in."
Foley said parents are often surprised by the results of the tests. He said more than half of the clients at the drug treatment center have used marijuana eight to 15 times a day for two years. In his experience, when kids say they've tried drugs once, it usually means they've used the drug 10 to 15 times.
Jean McAlister, the institute's founder, recalls one mother who brought her daughter for testing.
"The lady came in, had her daughter tested and found out she was using three drugs, three different kinds of drugs. And the woman just broke down in tears," McAlister said.
One of the drugs was heroin, a drug that studies show more and more teenagers are turning to because it's cheaper and easier to get than prescription drugs.
If parents suspect something, the McAlister institute said they can have a difficult conversation to convince their child to get screened, or they can leave the child no options.
"Make an appointment and bring them here from school, wherever they're at. And let them know that they're in charge, that they're going to make the decision which is, I gotta tell you, it's hard," Foley said.
McAlister believes 85 percent of kids are trying and using drugs. But the drug tests also empower kids with an excuse to escape peer pressure.
"If you can say, 'I don't dare use anything because my mom or dad drug tests me regularly,' then that gives the child an opportunity to say 'no' without saying 'no,'" she said.
According to HHSA, 2,000 minors are treated for drug use at San Diego County-funded facilities every year.
Free Drug Testing Sites
McAlister Institute (858) 277-4633
Palavra Tree (619) 263-7768
Phoenix House (760) 729-2830
Mental Health Systems, Inc. (760) 744-3672