A DNA paternity test kit may be available at a drug store near you, but under state law, users must visit an authorized agent to collect samples for analysis.

In February, after approval was granted by the state Department of Health, the Identigene DNA Paternity Test Kit became available at some pharmacies in New York, the 50th state where kits could be purchased over the counter. The approval not only makes tests more accessible to consumers but also can streamline the collection process and cut costs, Identigene executive director Steven Smith said Wednesday.

The Identigene DNA Paternity Test Kit costs about $30, and the complete service, including lab fees, physician authorization and sample collection, costs about $300, a news release said, and the streamlined process is projected to save consumers hundreds of dollars per test.

The Identigene DNA Paternity Test Kit has been available in 49 other states for more than two years, the Salt Lake City firm said.

Smith said a specially designed kit was needed for New York because of the state's Department of Health regulations.

"After the successful launch of the Identigene Paternity Test Collection Kit in all other states, we designed and submitted a New York specific kit to NYSDOH," he said in an e-mail.

Establishing paternity refers to the process of determining the legal father of a child, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance website said. A child born to unmarried parents has no legal father, the site said, and in New York, unmarried parents can establish paternity by signing a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form or by petitioning a court.

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By establishing paternity, parents are ensuring that the child has the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents, which range from reassurance that they cared enough to acknowledge paternity to information and access to family medical history, child support and Social Security and veterans benefits, the site said.

When collected properly, Identigene results for paternity tests can be used in court for divorce, child support, inheritance or criminal cases.

Typically, test result probabilities are more than 99.99 percent, the firm's website said.

In New York, the paternity test kits are sold by Walgreens and Rite Aid pharmacies, among others.

The state Department of Health approved Identigene laboratories to conduct DNA testing that would be admissible in court, and the firm is the only one with such standing, Smith said.

Previously, someone wanting a paternity test typically would go to a doctor who would find a lab for the testing, Smith said, and the process was expensive and complicated, involving at least two appointments.

Now consumers can make an appointment with a doctor, take the kit and have tests conducted, he said.

New York state requires an agent, such a physician or attorney, to authorize a paternity test and witness the sample collection process, a media release from Identigene said.

Smith said in states other than New York, the test may be administered without observation by an authorized agent. The results offer "peace of mind" but aren't typically admissible in court, the Identigene website said. A home paternity test costs and about $149, while a legal paternity test that requires an independent collector to identify participants and witness the sampling, costs $400, the Identigene site said.

New York state allows the Identigene lab to conduct only the legally admissible testing, Smith said, and any samples sent to the lab without proper collection procedures will be returned to consumers without processing.

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DNA paternity testing entails rubbing the side of the mouth with a swab provided in the kit, a news release said, and samples are taken from the mother, child and alleged father. The sample, consent forms and lab fee are sent to Identigene for processing, and results are available in three to five businesses days after receipt at the lab.

According to the Genetica DNA Laboratories website, collection of the mother's sample is not absolutely necessary for legal DNA paternity testing; however, the mother's sample helps by eliminating genes from consideration. The laboratory can perform a highly accurate legal DNA paternity test without the mother's sample by performing additional DNA analysis, the site of the Ohio-based firm said.

In cases where alleged fathers aren't willing or available, the lab can provide paternity testing through relatives, Smith said, but the cost is higher and consumers would need to call Identigene about family relationship testing. In New York, paternity and other DNA tests are being more widely used in immigration cases, he said.