Failing the test

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
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Leave a Comment

  • Briar Haven August 29, 2012, 2:06 pm

    Kyle, Your combination of fact and humour is POTENT. Could you please bottle it and send it to every policy maker in this country?
    Thanks for putting your wit and wisdom to such good use.

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald August 30, 2012, 6:04 pm

      Thank you, very kind of you to say. If only policy makers listened to facts, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

  • Margret Westwater August 29, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Ideology is also driving the cuts to section 9 referrals within the Family Court. What began life as a social contract that accompanied the no fault divorce laws almost 30 years ago has somehow become a nice to have that we can no longer afford. And after all, as one Justice official said at a meeting of Domestic Violence programme providers, “WE just don’t know what goes on in those meetings! Probably a cuppa and a chat!”
    Yeah right!
    Section 9 referrals has moved from being about counselling to address reconciliation and conciliation if that was no longer possible to being about working to ensure children would be cared for following separation of all family-based relationships with some equity in arrangements of providing two homes for children and to assist couples to manage highly emotionally charged relationships through these separations. Neither a “nice-to-have” nor just “a cuppa” indeed.

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald August 30, 2012, 6:06 pm

      I heard the same sort of insulting and dismissive rumours being bandied about when the cuts to sensitive claims counselling were made, this “they just go along year after year for a chat and a nice cuppa…” Apart from it being infuriating, it also shows that the general level of understanding about counselling and psychotherapy in the general community is very low. I believe we all have a responsibility as professions to correct this. I certainly didn’t study for six years to make people tea!

  • Unicorn September 3, 2012, 4:49 pm

    So…What Im asking myself about all this is…why are they testing the poor people for drugs….and not the richer people?

    Rich people use the coke and other expensive designer drugs – they even import the stuff into the country to make themselves even richer…so why just drug test the poor….they would only be able to afford the soft and cheaper, and less harmful drugs eg pot. Theyve got it all backwards again me thinks – but maybe they dont realise this, coz their brains are too full of coke and E.

    Maybe they will use the reason, that the poor are recieving taxpayer monies by getting the unemployment benefit….but hey, the rich have accountants and lawyers to sort out their tax dodges for them – and surely this is blatant fraud of taxpayers money – more so than a couple of hundred dollars of taxable income by someone on the unemployment benefit.

    Are they going to test for nicotine?… and how will they handle this drug dependency? Nicotine…the MOST ADDICTIVE drug in the world…and condoned by this government….coz its legal, and readily available for purchase over the counter.

    Are they going to test for Alcohol too – of which ALL classes are in involved with….Alcoholism isnt income conscious…And what about gambling?….all classes of society gamble too….BUT LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY GOVT MAKE FROM TOBACCO, ALCOHOL, AND GAMBLING.

    What a bunch of Hypocracy from a bunch of hypocrites…..and money wasting, trying to achieve what???? I mean seriously….WHAT ARE THEY HOPING TO ACHIEVE???…A job for a bunch of urine testers?

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