Warning the following blog post contains facts.
Dopey ideas (pun intended) usually involve seeking a simple solution to a complex argument. And drug testing beneficiaries to “solve” a problem that may not even exist, certainly fits this criteria.
“Defending a proposal to drug test beneficiaries despite lack of evidence, Bennett told Radio New Zealand: “I just don’t feel that we need to trawl through evidence and give that much kind of evidence to something that is just so obvious.” NZ Herald August 20th, 2012
I’ve spent most of my professional career talking to people who are addicted to a wide range of substances and behaviours, and I can assure you, it’s not a simple problem. But politically nothing captures the attention of right-leaning voters like “being tough on beneficiaries”, and whilst Paula Bennett has shown a clear dis-regard for facts and empirical evidence let’s actually examine the basis for such a policy.
“Getting tough will help” Fact: If punitive measures worked when it came to using drugs, then making them illegal would work. There is little evidence prohibition works and contrary to many peoples fears there is actually some evidence that when it comes to decriminalizing cannabis that population level use does not increase:
“In fact, both groups of experimental states showed a small, cumulative net decline in annual prevalence after decriminalization.” Click here for a comprehensive summary of global research.
“Drug use with beneficiaries is a problem.” Fact: There is no substantiated evidence that this is the case, or that testing helps. The state of Florida recently instituted such a law and has had to repel it after a successful legal challenge in that a drug test without suspicion of use is seen as an unconstitutional “search.” Furthermore:
“In the four months that Florida’s law was in place, the state drug tested 4,086 TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] applicants. A mere 108 individuals tested positive. To put it another way, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for illegal drugs — a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegal drugs.” Click here for the full story
Despite this absence of any substantiated problem, or the approach working, 25 states in the USA are introducing similar laws. And now, so are New Zealand.
But most disturbing to me is once again under this Government we are facing the potential impact of an ideologically driven approach to a health problem. (see also:”Back to work” and “System failure“)
Many years ago when I was traveling in the United Sates I was overwhelmed by the number of homeless people on the streets of San Francisco, many of them clearly using drugs or suffering the after-effects. It was simply a sight I had never seen before in New Zealand.
The self responsibility political zeitgeist of mainstream America is adept at both distancing themselves from this problem and blaming the victim. It is not hard to see that this is the logical outcome under this policy for people with intractable addictions, who have their benefit withdrawn as a consequence. Is this how we as a country want to treat some of our most vulnerable citizens?
Lastly, as is often the case satire says it best, in this case the Daily Show and Aasif Mandvi’s brilliant piece on the law in Florida. (Click here for a link to the clip or watch below) I would dearly love to see someone take the same approach at a press conference with our Minister of Social Development. (Any journalists reading this please consider that a challenge.)
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|