Residents of Voorhees, N.J., have adopted a new and more aggressive way to help curb underage drinking and open the door to alcohol awareness, by supplying parents with free alcohol testing kits.
"I believe [testing kits] will give a teenager a reason to say 'no' when they are in a situation where drinking is happening," said Gary Finger, former Mayor and current Director of Public Safety for Voorhees Township. "Knowing that their parents may test them, punish them and take away their car can be very strong deterrents."
Counseling sheets are distributed with each kit, encouraging discussion between parents and teens about alcohol use and abuse. The sheet covers information regarding alcohol counseling hotlines and other outreach services, along with discussion starters for parents and teens. Even if parents never use the kits to test their teens, and instead begin to communicate to their teens about alcohol use, then the program will be effective, said Finger.
The kits are free and available to parents at the local high school or police department. To help encourage participation, no names are taken when kits are handed out. The program has distributed between 75-100 kits to parents since its debut in late-December 2000.
"There was complete support by the Township Committee to give the program a trial run," said Finger. "This is no more than an extension of our existing Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program." The local school alliance, consisting of the municipalities of Berlin, Gibbsboro and Voorhees, endorsed the program and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is currently reviewing the program to determine if it will endorse the program as well.
Officials believe Voorhees is the first township in the country to have implemented a program of this nature. The town has initially covered the $7 cost per kit, but the State of New Jersey and several corporate sponsors have expressed interest in funding this innovative program, said Finger.
How The Test Works
The testing kit, manufactured by OraSure Technologies, Inc. located in Bethlehem, Pa., measures blood alcohol levels through a cotton-swab saliva sample taken from the cheeks, tongue and gums. Once the swab is inserted into a special gauge, a test result can be read in approximately two to five minutes.
The swab test is an accurate indicator of blood alcohol level because when consumed, alcohol is absorbed directly and evenly into the blood stream and bodily fluids, including saliva. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved the Orasure kit for accuracy.
Safety or Invasion of Privacy?
Officials believe that the use of the kit should also go hand in hand with teaching and trusting their children to behave responsibly. "Trust is a two way street," said Finger. "Teens must trust their parents to raise them safely and in a healthy environment. As parents, we realize the temptations of teenage life can be overwhelming and sometimes we have [to take measures] to protect our children."
"This is a completely voluntary program," said Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel. "If any parent is uncomfortable with the idea of testing their teen for alcohol use, then they don't have to participate."
Finger believes the kits allow for parents to detect and manage their teen's alcohol use through whatever way they see fit. "Who better to spot a problem, in its early stages, then the parent?" said Finger. "Parents have been very supportive of this program because they believe it's time that they have the tools that work within the privacy of their own home."
Town officials believe that this program will make parents more alcohol-aware especially since the biggest danger of alcohol use is its accessibility. "We want people involved in their teens lives to help identify potential problems and not have to identify a body," said Finger.
Teens were told about the testing kit program and were given the opportunity to voice their comments and concerns about it to Finger directly when he visited the high school senior health classes. "Most responses were pretty predictable," he said. Despite whatever objections there may have been by students, the program is moving along and doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.
Though there is strict anonymity for parents receiving the alcohol test kit in the future, the town plans to move kit distribution sites from the school and police department to less-intimidating environments.
For more information about alcohol testing kits, visit the OraSure Technologies, Inc. and STC Technologies, Inc. web site at: www.stctech.com
For more information about Voorhees Township or to contact any town officials, visit the Voorhees Township web site at: www.voorheesnj.com