Will a pediatrician do a drug test on a young teen without their knowledge if parents are concerned?
Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann: I cannot speak for every physician, but most pediatricians will tell a teen that they are conducting a drug test. Of note, most of the drug tests offered in a regular doctor’s office or ER are based on urine. This test will only tell you if a child has taken a drug very recently — the time window varies based on the drug. So, if you think your child is actively affected by a recreational drug this can be a useful test. But if you want to know if they have used a drug in the past days, weeks, months, you need hair testing. This can be done by commercial labs such as “Any Lab Test Now.”
It’s still a good idea to take your child to their pediatrician if you have concerns that they may be using drugs. Your pediatrician will likely offer to privately see the child, without a parent, and talk to them about what’s really going on.
They can offer counseling, education, and testing for the kinds of risk factors that go along with drug use, such as depression, mental illness, and sexual activity.
Aisha Sultan: I can understand your desire to get an answer to something that may be worrying you without having to “accuse” a child or get into an argument about it. I like Dr. B’s suggestion about scheduling an appointment for the doctor to talk to the child without the parent present. It might lead to a more frank conversation.
Aisha Sultan: Dr. B…If you do have a private conversation with a teen about possible drug use, are you bound to keep that private or can you discuss that later with the parent?
Dr. B: Usually we try to help the teen to tell the parents everything that is going on. I come up with a plan, such as counseling, and often an “immunity deal,” such that the child is not punished as long as they participate in the drug counseling. I hook patient and parent up with drug abuse resources and schedule a follow-up. I often find that tobacco smoking goes along with drug use, and it’s important for parents to let their kids smoke cigarettes while they try to kick the drug habit.
It’s very rare for kids to totally refuse to tell their parents about their drug use, especially after I have had a conversation with them and come up with a plan they agree with. By the time a child comes to see me, they know that their parents already have a clue about their drug use. But, if the child totally refuses to tell parents, and I feel they are in a life threatening situation, I can tell the parents without the child’s consent. I have only had to do that once in my career.