In a similar vein to the previous post, a Kentucky politician is proposing drug testing for people who receive benefits. People testing positive wouldn’t ‘necessarily’ be excluded from receiving public assistance, but they would be required to undergo treatment. As tradition demands, the ‘it’s for the children’ argument is brought into play here, with stories of food stamps being traded for drugs. Since 2008, similar bills have been introduced in the legislatures of Texas, Rhode Island, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, Kansas, West Virginia, and Arizona. Two bills before Oregon’s legislature would require drug screening for those receiving any type of state assistance.

One of my first concerns upon reading this was whether people who hadn’t been able to access treatment (because of waiting lists, being unable to afford it, etc) would be deterred from applying for public assistance in the first place, and therefore inadvertently penalized because they weren’t able to get the help they recognized that they needed. According to the SAMSHA state report, Kentucky has less unmet need for treatment than the average American state, but I don’t know how long, on average, somebody needs to wait for treatment, or how good the treatment is once they get it. I would imagine that parents will be deterred from applying for assistance because of fears that they might lose their children if they test positive.

These types of proposals always give me the heeby-jeebies. Attitudes to testing here in the US are very different to the UK. The UK’s Drug Intervention Program was the first concerted effort by the UK to introduce mandatory testing, and that was for people committing crimes typically associated with drug-related crime: burglary, mugging, dealing etc.   I’m still not sure how I feel about the program, but it was good at diverting offenders from prison into treatment.  While a few UK companies have random drug-testing policies for employees, it’s not in anyway comparable to the presence of testing in the US workplace. Efforts to introduce drug testing in schools in the UK were widely criticized and dropped. The UK government has at times suggested similar proposals to this Kentucky idea, but fortunately nothing’s come of it to date.

I think the reason the proposals freak me out is that these incremental intrusions have the effect of slowly boiling the frog. Testing in the federal workplace, testing in schools, testing for receipt of public assistance. Will there be testing for people taking driving tests, or renewing their driver’s licence, or applying for a credit card?  Why not just test all of us, just in case?

There is some hope though. A 1999 attempt to introduce a similar measure in Michigan was overturned by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2003 after it was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. A ruling declared the requirement violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches. Hurrah for the Constitution.

Source:  The Richmond Register, Napier’s bill would require drug testing for adults receiving assistance