Cumberland Times-News

March 16, 2013

Sticky issue

Drug tests can have unintended consequences


Cumberland Times-News

— Polls repeatedly show overwhelming support for the idea of requiring public assistance recipients to undergo random or periodic drug testing.

One taken in Virginia showed 75 percent of those responding were in favor of the idea.

Measures to that end are currently pending in both Maryland and West Virginia.

Maryland’s House of Delegates version would affect only individuals in the Temporary Cash Assistance program, requiring them to pay the cost of the test, but reimbursing them if the test is negative.

West Virginia’s House bill is essentially the same, but also pending is a Senate version that would require drug testing for those who receive unemployment ... as well as members of the legislature.

In both states, these measures are being co-sponsored by some of our local delegates.

The reasoning is simple: people who are on public assistance should not receive funds that may help them buy illegal drugs. It’s difficult to argue with that idea. Some private employers already require employees or job applicants to take drug tests. Police officers, firefighters and teachers must take them in some places.

However, the issue is not as simple as it seems. Opponents of such drug testing say it is an invasion of privacy that affects people who, under ordinary circumstances, would not be subject to it. It also runs the risk of cutting support for the recipient’s family members, especially children.

The Center for Law and Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group, says drug testing can cost between $20,000 to $77,000 just to catch one abuser.

Several states have considered, or are now considering, laws that would require drug testing for public assistance recipients.

The trick will be to find a way to punish violators while minimizing or eliminating altogether the unintended consequences of punishing innocent family members.