Published on -4/7/2013, 7:15 AM
As a physician who has spent years providing intervention and treatment for addictions, I'm concerned about unaddressed issues with SB 149, quite apart from civil rights implications of selectively drug-testing a primarily low-income population, while others whose behavior directly affects the public good (e.g. members of Congress) are exempted.
Drug-testing is expensive -- both the lab tests per se, and the procedural requirements for collecting and transporting specimens for testing. How much is the state willing to spend on that?
Will a positive test lead to determining whether the violator is actually addicted and in need of treatment, or just an occasional recreational user for whom formal treatment would be a waste of our resources and his/her time? If the determination places the violator in the latter category, will the treatment requirement be waived, along with further testing?
What constitutes a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use? Unkempt appearance? Poor grammar?
Drug addiction is best viewed as a chronic disease, requiring long-term treatment, and usually involving multiple relapses before finally succeeding (if at all). Currently our ability to provide meaningful treatment to known victims of addiction is inadequate -- not enough facilities, not enough staff, not enough funding. How much is the state willing to spend on the infrastructure needed to make compliance with this law possible on an even larger scale? How many relapses will be permitted before simply denying "addicts" further participation?
Since the proffered reason for the law is to get low-income people into jobs programs, why limit such re-education opportunities to poor drug-users? I suspect this law was not motivated by arch-conservatives' abiding concern for the wellbeing of people on the dole, but rather by the annoyance we all experience when we envision taxpayers' dollars diverted to drug dealers, although I've never seen a decent estimate of the amount of public funds actually spent on drugs.
We should be sure the drug testing includes nicotine and alcohol. Tobacco costs the state far more than illegal drugs do, as reflected in prevalence of use, money diverted by tax-supported consumers, and enormous health care costs attributable directly to tobacco-induced pathology.
SB 149 appears very much like cynical grandstanding by well-off people who want to prove, as if it were necessary, they're not "soft on drugs."
It's unfair, degrading to people who already face social opprobrium because of their poverty, and expensive in the extreme if implemented uniformly.
Jon Hauxwell, MD