June 29, 2023

In the realm of juvenile drug court programs, finding effective methods to promote sobriety and support rehabilitation is crucial for the well-being of young individuals struggling with substance abuse.

However, many drug court programs have found conventional testing and accountability methods to be less than ideal. These same less-than-ideal solutions are especially challenging for juvenile drug testing, where privacy and maintaining a youth’s dignity are even more pressing concerns.

For smaller communities like Yuma, Arizona, finding ways to keep juveniles safe and accountable is a critical factor when choosing the right drug testing methods.

Juvenile Drug Testing: A Unique Challenge

This was the case for Henry Gonzalez, the Probation Supervisor of Yuma’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court. Over the past year, Henry has introduced a new method for juvenile drug testing—the PharmChek® Sweat Patch—at the request of the Director of Juvenile Court Services, Ed Gilligan.

Ed Gilligan, Director of Juvenile Court Services

These small adhesive patches have revolutionized drug testing for more than 30 years, offering several benefits and positive outcomes for youth involved in the legal system. And Yuma’s juvenile probation court is a prime example of the advantages that are possible when using the Sweat Patch in the context of juvenile drug court programs.

In less than a year, Gonzalez and the Yuma County Juvenile Drug Treatment Court transitioned to the Sweat Patch as their primary drug testing method. And for a good reason: the testing and collection process solved many of their most pressing problems—including privacy and dignity—while also providing a measure of accountability that consistently leads to recovery for juveniles in the program.

From Coaching Football to Drug Court

Henry Gonzalez, Probation Supervisor of Yuma’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court

In 2003, Gonzalez was coaching the local high school football team while applying to different law enforcement agencies in the area. It was around this time when a close friend talked to him about becoming a juvenile probation officer.

“He called me one day and said, ‘You’re currently working with young men, trying to win football games. Here’s an opportunity for you to help young men and women overcome adversity and win at life.’”

Now, nearly 20 years later, Gonzalez is still a probation officer, and he’s never looked back.

“I love my job. I love working with youth. I love working with families, and I love giving back to my community."

That love for helping young people recover from drug use and addiction is one of the factors that excited Gonzalez to follow up on Gilligan’s recommendation of the PharmChek® Sweat Patch. And with the increasing dangers of new and powerful drugs such as super meth and fentanyl, Gonzalez felt his program needed the Sweat Patch more than ever.

The Scope of Youth Drug Use

Youth involvement in drug use encompasses a wide range of substances, including methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and synthetic drugs like spice and bath salts. However, one of the most alarming trends is the use of fentanyl among young individuals, which has led to a shocking increase in addiction cases and tragic deaths.

Gonzalez recalls the change in trends over the last five years:

“How much worse can it get than somebody that's using bath salts? And then fentanyl hit in 2018—2019. I can tell you that throughout my career prior to fentanyl, I could probably count on both hands the number of youth that I was familiar with that had overdosed and died.”

What’s the state of substance use today?

The Most Alarming Trends in Drug Use Demographics Over the Last 5 Years

Fentanyl: The New Drug of Convenience

The rise of fentanyl has led to an abrupt increase in overdoses and deaths, and Gonzalez’s community, which is near the US-Mexico border, has certainly suffered. He says the statistics are frightening.

“That number now—there are not enough hands to count. And there are kids, youth, and young people that are using fentanyl in our community. They're becoming addicted to it, and they're dying as a result.”

Addressing the complexity and severity of this issue required an innovative approach, and the Sweat Patch offered a promising solution, according to Gonzalez.

Yuma County Juvenile Drug Court: The Challenges That Led to PharmChek®

  • Safety concerns with both adults and juveniles using the same testing lab
  • Struggles to maintain compliance with drug test reporting schedules
  • Dignity and privacy concerns for juvenile participants
  • Gender-specific observations for sample collection
  • Blind spots and gaps in accountability
  • Parental buy-in and cooperation
  • Adulteration concerns

Eliminating Barriers, Ensuring Sobriety

The PharmChek® Sweat Patch has long been a game-changing tool for drug testing youth in drug court programs. Unlike conventional urine tests, the Sweat Patch is easy to apply and remove with zero privacy concerns, providing a dependable and convenient option for both the youth and the officers administering the tests.

From Pilot Program to Primary Method

For the Yuma County juvenile court, their initial PharmChek® trial period quickly evolved into the full-blown implementation of the Sweat Patch in their drug court. But even with such a dramatic change, Gonzalez said the youth have responded with appreciation rather than frustration.

That’s because the Sweat Patch eliminated so many of the barriers, privacy concerns, and safety concerns often associated with conventional juvenile drug testing methods. The ease of application and collection, the continuous accountability, and the ability to maintain dignity made the transition easy for program participants and parents alike.

Continuous Accountability

The Sweat Patch provides continuous monitoring of drug use over an extended period of time, as many as 10 days. This long-term monitoring ensures a higher level of accountability and reduces the chances of donors evading detection.

In Yuma’s juvenile probation program, probation officers use a “one-off-one-on” protocol, where each patch is replaced by a new one after it’s collected, to maintain consistent accountability. And one case, in particular, helped demonstrate PharmChek®’s clear advantages.

“One young lady wore the patch throughout the program. Through our supervision, through the counseling and treatment of the interventions of the court, and through the drug testing that was provided through the patch, she was able to overcome a Fentanyl addiction.”

Ease of Collection

Conventional drug testing methods require multiple trips to a dedicated lab or testing facility. Yuma is a small community with only one collection lab with limited hours of operation. It’s difficult for families to get there before it closes, which can lead to a parole violation. But the Sweat Patch makes the logistics of adhering to court-mandated drug testing more feasible for everyone.

Gonzalez says, “The patch was an instrumental part of this young lady’s success. Her mother struggled with transporting her back and forth from the lab, and the patch removed that barrier and assisted her throughout the process.”

With the help of the PharmChek® Sweat Patch, this girl went on to graduate from Yuma’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court program as well as from her high school. Gonzalez states (with a smile) that the court celebrated her victory and recovery. This story is just one of many examples of why families of juveniles in the program are thankful for the simplified reporting protocols of PharmChek®.

How the Yuma County Probation Court Implements the Sweat Patch:

  1. Online Training: Much of the Yuma County Drug Treatment Court goes through the PharmChek® online training, along with live webinars, to be certified for Sweat Patch application and collection.
  2. Personal Experience: The staff and officers wear the patch themselves to gain firsthand knowledge and experience, allowing them to bolster participant support and accountability.
  3. Policies and Procedures: In order to better prepare officers and staff for both adult and juvenile drug testing requirements, Gonzalez leads the process of developing clear guidelines for their probation program.
  4. Pilot Program: Juvenile drug testing with the Sweat Patch starts, including a one-off-one-on policy to maintain continuous sample collection.
  5. Full Adoption: With great success in the juvenile probation program, Yuma County expands its use of the PharmChek® drug patch to all levels of the program.
  6. Success: When they piloted PharmChek®, Yuma County had 12 to15 youth wearing the Sweat Patch. Today, as a result of PharmChek® being their preferred testing method, that number is much higher and having a huge impact on improving lives in the community.

Gender-Indifferent Collection

One significant advantage of the Sweat Patch over urine tests is the elimination of gender-specific collection. Urine tests, which require supervision, also require same-gender observation.

For Yuma County, that often meant the women in the lab had to find an available male observer or vice-versa. The Sweat Patch removes this obstacle, offering a gender-indifferent drug testing method for all participants and observers.

No More “Yuck” Factor

When Gonzalez started his career as a probation officer, urine testing was the go-to option. And while Yuma’s drug courts had used both urinalysis and saliva testing, they still wanted a better, more sanitary solution.

“We really were looking to add another resource, another tool, if you will, to our drug testing methodology. We know that there's a gross yuck factor to urine. Urine testing has a lot of negatives.”

But when they started using the Sweat Patch for drug testing, both the officers and the parents of the juveniles were thankful for the hygienic process that replaced the old method.

“That's where the patch came in and provided a solution for those issues that we were having with the urine testing or with other methods that we were using.”

Positive Impact, Future Possibilities

The PharmChek® Sweat Patch can be used to promote sobriety and aid positive outcomes in drug court programs, including youth programs. In Yuma County alone, because of its many benefits in helping youth and families, Gonzalez has seen the number of juveniles wearing the patch grow considerably over time. It’s a clear demonstration of the efficacy of the Sweat Patch in supporting rehabilitation efforts.

“These are youth that have very serious substance abuse needs. We celebrate the success of those youth, and I believe that the PharmChek® Sweat Patch has assisted us in those efforts.”

These encouraging results demonstrate the advantages of this accountability method, and other courts and agencies are noticing how the implementation of the Sweat Patch in their own drug court programs could have the same impact.

What the Yuma County Juvenile Probation Court Saw in the PharmChek® Drugs of Abuse Sweat Patch:

  • More privacy and dignity for participants
  • Eliminated the “yuck” factor of urine collection
  • 24-7 accountability for all program participants
  • Less stress and anxiety for participants and their families
  • Better resource management for staff in the small community
  • Almost no adulteration concerns due to tamper-evident design
  • A streamlined collection protocol that benefited both staff and participants

A Better Training Experience

One of the hallmarks of working with PharmChek® is the available training. With simple and straightforward processes, courts and probation programs can certify team members as trained observers through online learning and receive continuing education through Training Tuesdays live Q&A sessions. Gonzalez says that the extensive training from PharmChek® is one of the reasons they were able to implement the Sweat Patch from end-to-end in Yuma.

“Another benefit is that the training was online. It was very easy to understand: the application, the removal, the chain of custody. And then, of course, the follow-up, the Training Tuesdays, were all very helpful.”

For the Yuma County Juvenile Court, both staff training and personal experience played a crucial role in their success. Gonzalez, along with much of the staff, chose to wear the Sweat Patch themselves to gain firsthand experience and better understand the people they help.

“When we began to learn and train with the patch, I had my entire drug team come in. Our probation officer, surveillance officer, counselor, and family support specialist. And I wore it, too.”

Personal Experience, No Excuses

By taking this immersive approach, the whole team knew exactly what the Sweat Patch was capable of handling. And that meant even better accountability for the juveniles they helped. The patch won’t come off from showering, clothing pulling on it, or any sort of exercise or strenuous activity. But these were all common excuses officers heard from juveniles when they started using the PharmChek® Sweat Patch. After the firsthand experience of wearing the patches, the officers were ready to meet these excuses head-on.

“I think that provides very valuable insight, so that when you do encounter those excuses—and kids will give excuses—that you're able to counter that with facts and with personal experience.”

Along with the online training, this personal experience allowed them to keep their clients honest, leading to better support and faster recovery.

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Yuma’s Juvenile Drug Testing Success

As juvenile drug court programs continue to seek innovative and effective methods to address youth substance abuse, the use of the PharmChek® Sweat Patch emerges as a promising solution. These patches provide numerous advantages, including ease of use, continuous accountability, and gender-indifferent sample collection.

But the advantages of juvenile drug testing aren't limited to the agencies that adopt it. The positive outcomes for program participants and families prove that this solution holds benefits for every individual involved.

As the success stories from Yuma County demonstrate, incorporating the Sweat Patch into drug court programs can significantly contribute to the rehabilitation and sobriety of young individuals. By embracing this innovative technology, we can create a supportive environment that empowers youth to overcome their struggles and lead healthier, drug-free lives.

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