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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No Drug Testing For People in Need-Based Programs (Ohio Welfare)


Ohio Senator Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) has introduced Senate Bill 69 requiring drug testing "for adults who apply for need-based programs that provide cash assistance, medical assistance, housing assistance, food assistance, or energy assistance." Schaffer says, "We want to make sure that in this tough, tough budget era when the state budget is so, so very tight and cuts are going to be made that what money we do put out there in the communities is actually getting to the kids, the children, the family members that need it. And not going to buy illegal drugs."

Good idea? No doubt, reports from police, courts and human services indicate that illegal drug users are getting public welfare benefits funded by taxpayers and using the money to purchase illegal drugs. The public outcry over this illegal activity is warranted. This behavior represents direct abuse of the welfare system, hands down. I know that, you know that, everyone with half a brain in Ohio knows that.

Still, the question remains: "Will drug tests for those on assistance (a) improve the problem of drug abuse and (b) save the taxpayers' money?" I have some serious doubts about this policy doing either of these things.

Why I Have Doubts

1. In the proposal, a urine test would be used to detect alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs at levels prohibited while operating a motor vehicle.

As far as I can tell, the proposed urine test will cover the following drugs (Ohio code 4511.19):

1. Alcohol
2. Amphtamines (opium, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, fentanyl, 90 mg of pure codeine, etc. Also known as speed, crank, uppers, etc.")
3. Cocaine and Cocaine Metabolite
4. Heroin and Heroin Metabolite
5. L.S.D.
6. Marijuana
7. Methamphetamine (also known as "meth, ice, crystal, etc.")
8. Phencyclidine (a potent veterinary analgesic and anesthetic known as PCP and "angel dust")
9. Salvia Divinorum and the amount of salvinorin A (a perennial wild member of the psychoactive mint family whose active constituent, salvinorin A, produces powerful hallucinogenic effects and synesthesia. Also known as Salvia.)

Some of the obvious objections to the urine tests are 

(a) a limited day detection window, 
(b) the procedure is somewhat invasive, 
(c) cut-off levels for the drugs apply, 
(d) tampering can occur, and 
(e) false reads are possible. (The most common false positive result for methamphetamine comes from pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in many sinus and cold medications.)

Consider the following information for urine detection periods. Can you see some interesting contrasts?

Substance and Approximate Values for Detection Periods with Urine Testing

Alcohol  6–24 hours  Note: Alcohol tests may measure EtG which can stay in urine for up to 80 hours
Amphetamines (except methamphetamine) 1 to 5 days
Methamphetamines  3 to 5 days
MDMA (Ecstasy) 72 hours
Barbiturates (except phenobarbital) 1 day
Phenobarbital  2 to 3 weeks
Benzodiazepines  Therapeutic use: up to 7 days. Chronic use (over one year): 4 to 6 weeks
Cannabis  2 to 7 days, up to >30 days after heavy use and/or in users with high body fat
Cocaine  2 to 5 days with exceptions for certain kidney disorders
Codeine  2 to 3 days
Cotinine  (a break-down product of nicotine)  2 to 4 days
Morphine  2 to 4 days
Heroin  1 to 4 days
L.S.D.  12 to 24 hours
Methadone  3 days
PCP  3 to 7 days for single use; up to 30 days in chronic users 

Drug testing is more likely to catch cannabis users, since THC metabolites are fat soluble and have a longer duration in the body than those of other drugs which are widely considered more dangerous such as cocaine and heroin. This can potentially lead would-be cannabis users to switch to harder drugs, most of which generally have significantly shorter detection times and/or are less likely to be tested for. (Rodney Skager, PhD, "Beyond Zero Tolerance: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline," Safety1st.org, 2007)

According to the Ohio Drug Threat Assessment (http://www.justice.gov), marijuana is the principal illicit drug of abuse throughout Ohio. But, consider the drug most abused -- ALCOHOL. With detection evidenced within the short period of 6-24 hours, how easy will the abuser of alcohol be able to avoid detection by urine test? And, how much easy will it be for alcoholics to retest after the 30-day stipulation?

The news media seriously under-report the role alcohol plays in violent crimes, injuries and traffic accidents, according to a national study in the Journal of Studies of Alcohol (2006). Some of the largest discrepancies occurred in reporting alcohol use in violent crimes, particularly for television news. Only 1.4 percent of television news stories in the sample mentioned the role of alcohol in their reporting of homicides, according to Michael Slater, co-author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State University. "The result is that the public may underestimate the dangers of alcohol use," Slater said. (Michael Slater, "Study: Media Rarely Notes When Alcohol Plays Role in Violent Crimes and Accidents," http://researchnews.osu.edu)

In 2005, Ohio had approximately 690,000 people who had an alcohol addiction and 259,000 people with a drug dependency. Of those, only 38,000 alcoholics and 31,000 drug abusers got the help they needed from an Ohio treatment program. ("Ohio Rehabilitation and Intervention for Drug Abuse and Alcohol Abuse," Addiction Recovery Programs, 2007)

Leaving nearly 700,000 addicts without treatment is not helping the situation of drug and alcohol abuse in Ohio; in fact it’s only making matters worse. And, Senate Bill 69 makes no provisions for assisting those with serious addictions. Would Senator Schaffer be willing to invest all the money he believes will be saved with Senate Bill 69 into intervention and rehabilitation of addicts? That would entail helping drug and ALCOHOL dependent Ohioians?

Are all people who benefit from Ohio's need-based programs drug and alcohol dependent or even in danger of becoming drug and alcohol dependent? Exactly who will be found positive in Senate Bill 69's urine screen? Don't you think many occasional (recreational, if you will) drug and alcohol users will be denied assistance? Are those the people you most want to punish? Think of the potential damage to children of such households.

According to Ohio law, a drug dependent person means "any person who, by reason of the use of any drug of abuse, is physically, psychologically, or physically and psychologically dependent upon the use of such drug, to the detriment of the person’s health or welfare."

The law says a person in danger of becoming a drug dependent person means "any person who, by reason of the person’s habitual or incontinent use of any drug of abuse, is in imminent danger of becoming a drug dependent person."

We cannot be content to punish every poor person who consumes alcohol unless we, as a State and a Nation, change our perceptions of the meaning of being alcohol dependent to the point of making everyone adhere to tighter drinking standards that will stop the "detriment" and "danger" caused by those who drink.

Remember, The Columbus Dispatch reported that the Ohio Statehouse is adding its first full-service bar soon. The bar will be conveniently placed where the existing coffee restaurant is on the building's lower level in Columbus. The Ohio agency that oversees the Statehouse says that the bar will be stocked with beer, wine, liquor, multiple flat-screen televisions and will hold "private happy hours" for state lawmakers and at certain times the public.("Ohio Statehouse Installs Full-service Bar," Huffington Post, July 1 2011) I mean, in a way, aren't Ohio lawmakers on public assistance, too?

Finally, if you test for drugs and alcohol, why not test for tobacco? You and I know many people receiving benefits smoke. A recent cost check at Sam's Club found Marlboro cigarettes were selling for just under $50 a carton. Check out these statistics. ("The Toll of Tobacco In Ohio," http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/toll_us/ohio, November 28 2011)

Smoking-Caused Monetary Costs in Ohio

Annual health care costs in Ohio directly caused by smoking $4.37 billion
Portion covered by the state Medicaid program $1.4 billion
Residents' state & federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures $614 per household
Smoking-caused productivity losses in Ohio $4.85 billion

Deaths in Ohio from Smoking

Adults who die each year from their own smoking 18,500
Kids now under 18 and alive in Ohio who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking 293,000
 
2. In the proposal, a person refusing to take the test or testing positive for a controlled substance would not be eligible for assistance and would have to wait 30 days before reapplying.

Understandably, an exception would be made for individuals testing positive for a controlled substance if the substance was prescribed by a licensed health professional and taken as directed. Others? Schaffer's bill would require adults asking the state for help to pay for their own drug test, at a cost that he says can be as little as $15 (Oh boy -- Have you ever known the state to spend the least money on anything?) And I wonder who will benefit from landing the urine testing contract? (Surely, nary one Columbus politician.)

Why shouldn't these people get reimbursed if they are drug-free?


But, how much will these drug tests cost a person who legitimately reapplies numerous times? If you believe in public assistance at all (discount your hatred of those who abuse the system) how can you expect the poorest of the poor in Ohio to fork out their own money for testing?  Aren't they asking for help because they don't have the money to pay for such a test in the first place?

3. Before the proposal no concrete data was ever gathered to show a problem even existed.

Schaffer has stated, "Well, we'll have data once we implement the system. Once we implement the testing. If 100 percent of the people who apply for public assistance come out clean and don't have any drugs in their system, then fine, great. But my suspicion is we'll find some. And we'll get those folks help." He continued, "Well, we have strong suspicions there's a problem, but I don't think it's too much to ask for somebody to submit to a drug test who is asking the state taxpayer for hundreds or thousands of dollars in assistance."

"100%?" Who in their right mind would expect such a result? Of course, some people who apply for public assistance are using drugs. "Suspicions?" Of course, we all have suspicions. But who sponsors state legislation based on hearsay and on suspicions?

In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, (2002) 9.6 percent of people living in households that received government assistance used illicit drugs in the previous month, compared with a 6.8 percent rate among families who received no assistance. So, the answer is that 2.8 percent more welfare recipients actually abuse drugs than other members of the public, hardly a significant difference.

The administration also found that heavy alcohol use was slightly lower in households receiving assistance than in those that do not. (Alan Greenblat, "Should Welfare Recipients Get Drug Testing?" NPR, March 31 2010)

4. Senator Schaffer does not see how passage of Senate Bill 69 would be a penalty on poor people.

In fact, a person applying for services obviously is there because he/she doesn't have any extra money to spend. Schaffer says his legislation will "make sure that what public taxpayer dollars are going to families. Going to put food on the table, shoes on the feet, shirt on the back." Yet, who could argue that paying for the tests will be wasting money for those who don't do drugs?

The Fourth Amendment guarantees that no individual in America can be subjected to a search by the government unless there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed some crime. Welfare recipients are poor; however, being poor is not a reasonable suspicion for a crime, at least not yet.

5. Does Senator Schaffer know other states have tried testing and failed?

Though surprising to many, an early experiment with such a policy in Michigan proved ineffective, experts say. "A decade ago, Michigan implemented mandatory testing in three welfare offices. Out of 258 new and continuing applicants tested, 21 tested positive for illicit substances. All but three of these women tested positive for marijuana only. In light of such experiences, few states have chosen to pursue similar efforts," says Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. (Laura Bassett, "Kentucky Lawmaker: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Would Save 'Millions and Millions,'" Huffington Post, January 18 2011)

After Michigan imposed random drug testing on welfare recipients, it found that 10 percent tested positive for illicit drugs, with 3 percent testing positive for hard drugs such as cocaine. "These rates are consistent with the general population," according to the liberal Center for Law and Social Policy.

In 2003, a federal appeals court halted Michigan’s attempt to impose mandatory drug tests on all welfare recipients. The judge seemed especially concerned with the rights of ordinary citizens whose only offense is that they are in need of government help. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts ruled that no one should have to choose between their constitutional rights and providing for their families.

6. How much more Ohio government bureaucracy would Senate Bill 69 cause?

"I oppose such legislation for both philosophical and practical reasons," says Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, which works with poor families. "The proposal here would have state social workers taking on yet another task for which they are not prepared. This will add cost and more bureaucracy, and with our state budget in the fix it is, I don't think we can pull this off," he reports. (Philip Smith, "Feature" Bills to Require Drug Testing for Welfare, Unemployment Pop Up Around the Country,"

"Philosophically, I think we should be holding people accountable for what we want them to do, not for what we don't want them to do," states Preis. "People want to take care of their families, to do the right thing. It just doesn't make sense to me. Taking away benefits from someone struggling with substance abuse issues isn't going to help them; it will only make matters worse."






My Beliefs

Drug testing without suspicion of misconduct or abuse is wrong. We have the Fourth Amendment guarantee that, as Americans, we can be subjected to a search by the government unless there is reasonable suspicion that we have committed some crime. I refuse to give up my Constitutional rights.

Being poor is not against the law. And, receiving welfare and support is not against the law. Rules and penalties are already in place for those who receive need-based cash assistance, medical assistance, housing assistance, food assistance, or energy assistance. Why should any citizen, no matter his or her financial standing, sacrifice their rights as an American citizen?

I do not wish the government to search my body or my property without reasonable suspicion. I have fought and I will continue to fight for this right.  Reasonable is the operative word. Acting with reason means operating with sound judgment, fairness, and without excess. Drug testing poor people is judgmental, unfair, and excessive action by the government when it does not have any suspicion. Many of the same Americans who scream about individual rights evidently do not see this because many of these same people want to drug test welfare recipients

Reform has been enacted. The welfare reform of 1996 ended the idea of welfare as an entitlement. Federal funds were sent as block grants to the states, which were given more discretion over how to spend the money. The new model included work requirements and limits on how many years people could receive benefits.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, Florida, Michigan and Nevada have some of the highest unemployment rates. These same states are vying for drug testing welfare recipients. Does this seem to be a "reasonable" time during such unemployment to do this?

The BLS shows the national unemployment rate of about 9% does not include ‘underutilized’ workers. What are underutilized workers? Unemployed people seeking full time work, someone who has been unemployed for a long time and has given up hope of finding any work or someone who wants a full time job but has to take a part time one just to survive. Low wage, no benefit jobs do not help people out of poverty.

In general, the reviewed national research finds welfare-assisted families moving in and out of the labor market. Many welfare recipients report only qualifying for jobs in low-wage, secondary markets; jobs that are often temporary, seasonal and/or part-time; jobs offering unstable work hours and neither healthcare nor family leave benefits. The need for basic supports such as child care and transportation assistance further limits their employability. (National Evaluation of the Welfare-Work Grant Program, http://www.utexas.edu, /depts/ic2/et/learner/general.html, September 2004)

More than half of the families that left welfare in the past year worry about having enough food. Seventeen percent of families with a full-time worker and 27% with a part-time worker actually went hungry at some point during the first year off welfare. Former welfare families also had difficulty meeting other basic needs, such as housing, health care, and child care. (Bethney Gundersen, Family Hardships Suffered By Recent Welfare Recipients," Economic Policy Institute, July 25 2001)

 Source: EPI Analysis of National Survey of American Families

The BLS also shows the unemployment rate is rising for the non college educated people over college graduates holding a Bachelor degree or higher. (Linda Wolf, "Drug Test Welfare Recipients. Really. Hmm,?" November 20 2011)

Ohio Representative Marcia Fudgez recently found out that nearly half of food stamp recipients (SNAP) have children under 18.

Do you agree with this quote? Nancy Scheper-Hughes, chairwoman of the anthropology department at the University of California at Berkeley, states, "Most of what gets labeled 'welfare fraud' is little more than the creative ingenuity of mothers trying to overcome the odds against them and their children, still so often viewed as 'surplus' populations."(Nancy Scheper-Hughes, "Welfare Recipients Can Help Break Stereotype, The New York Times, June 6 1996) 

If Senate Bill 69 becomes law, then what's next? Maybe this -- an Ohio state senator, Tim Grendell, recently said he plans to introduce a bill to require the unemployed to take a drug test before they receive unemployment benefits.
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