Drug testingmay not getintended results


We have previously expressed our ambivalence when it comes to mandatory drug-testing for people to receive welfare, only slightly being in favor of such a program, primarily because we are unaware of any study that shows that money spent on the testing is less than what is saved in extended benefits and thereby putting the taxpayers into the black.

But we easily understand what is the most compelling argument in favor of drug-testing as part of eligibility requirements to receive benefits such as food stamps: Many of you submit to drug-testing to maintain employment, so why should someone who benefits from your tax dollars derived from that employment not have to be tested for drugs as well?

The second most compelling argument: Drug-testing is an act of benevolence if the penalties are imposed on a graduated scale, beginning with counseling and only climbing to a loss of benefits when all else fails. No one’s life is made better through abusing drugs or alcohol.

If the state’s intent is to test welfare recipients for substance abuse, then … well, administer the tests.

The catch — if there is one — is that beneficiaries and applicants are only tested for drugs after they answer 20 questions as part of a screening process. The drug tests are then administered only to those identified as potential abusers.

Here is a sampling of the questions:

For alcohol:

— How often do you have a drink containing alcohol? (0) Never; (1) Monthly (2); 2-4 times a month; (3) 2-3 times a week; (4) 4 or more times a week.

— How often during the last year have you found that you were unable to stop drinking once you started? (0) never; (1) less than monthly; (2) monthly; (3) weekly; (4) daily or almost daily.

— How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because of drinking? (0) never; (1) less than monthly; (2) monthly; (3) weekly; (4) daily or almost daily.

For drugs:

— Have you used drugs other than those required for medical reasons? Yes or no.

— Have you ever had blackouts or flashbacks as a result of drug use? Yes or no.

— Have you engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drugs? Yes or no.

It would be easy for someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol to negotiate these questions and the other 14 without raising a red flag. Remember few are better at masking behavior than people who suffer with substance abuse.

Again, we aren’t calling for drug testing, but if that is the intent, then administer tests. If cost is a primary concern, then do so randomly so that the threat can act as a deterrent. And if we drug test, provide counseling for first offenses, raise penalties for additional offenses, but continue to protect the children, who are innocent.

The drug-testing system now in place could be seen as a folly, but it does cost the state money and time that might be better spent elsewhere.

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