Mandatory Drug Tests a Failed Idea!

Mandatory Drug Tests a Failed Idea!
Posted by FoM on June 01, 1999 at 08:50:51 PT
By Christine Dirks -- London Free Press
Source: London Free Press
There is no proof that drug and alcohol addiction is a bigger problem with people on welfare than any it is with any other group. Nor is there proof drug and alcohol addiction is a greater barrier for them to find and keep employment than it is for any others.
 That hasn't stopped the government of Premier Mike Harris from proposing mandatory drug testing and treatment for welfare recipients. The Tory proposal isn't about true welfare reform. It's about bashing the poor, perpetuating stereotypes and dividing society along class lines. It's not about helping people on welfare become job-ready, about portraying them as low-lifes who abuse the system and deserve to be cut off. Had the Tories consulted professionals in the addiction field they would have known drug testing is rife with problems. Testing does not show how much of a drug was taken or in what form. It may reveal recent drug use but it does not reveal addiction. False-postive tests are not unusual with over-the-counter medications. The Tory proposal raises a serious issue. If someone is on welfare, have they lost the right to choose if, when and where to seek help? When one applies for welfare, questions about drug and alcohol use are not asked because they are "not relevant to entitlement" explained Bob McNorgan, administrator of the London office for Ontario Works. He said it is "inappropriate to ask those questions" about substance use. Why, then, would it be appropriate for the Harris government to demand testing and treatment later? Carolyn Nutter of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto said the centre is "very concerned" about mandatory testing and treatment. It sees thousands of people each year from all walks of life. "You can force anyone to do anything for a while," said Nutter. "Long-term, though, treatment won't work unless the person wants it to." Getting a person off drugs is one thing. Keeping them off is quite another. Drugs are only part of an addict's problem. Behaviour is the other part and it's far more difficult to treat. Behaviour change happens in predictable stages, even for people on welfare. You don't make someone urinate in a jar, tell them they have a problem, "treat" them and end the story. Addictions are more complex than that. "Because someone has been identified as having problems with addiction doesn't mean they intend to change their behaviour," said Linda Sibley-Bowers of Alcohol and Drug Services of Thames Valley. "Drug use," she said "and the desire to or not to change has nothing to do with socio-economics." The province currently spends about $110 million for addiction assessments and referrals, detox centres and recovery homes. That's around $10 million more than the Tories are spending on their election ads. Who knows what kind of "treatment" the Tories have in mind? But whatever it is, recovery is no quick cure. Homewood Health Centre is a private hospital in Guelph that treats thousands of in-patients and out-patients a year with substance abuse problems. Patients range from professionals to the poor. Spokesperson Ric Ament said, generally speaking, it takes approximately one year for an individual to "get a life back in order." There are about 13,500 welfare cases in the London and Middlesex area. What if Harris's idea is enacted and only one per cent of these people refuse testing or test positive and refuse treatment? That's about 135 new homeless walking the streets in this part of the province. What if that one per cent is provincewide? I'm no statistician but Harris has probably thought it through. Isn't he the one who has promised millions of dollars more for the homeless? Christine Dirks is a Free Press reporter. Her column appears Tuesdays. 
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