Drug testing; easy fix or wishful thinking

The proposal to trial drug-testing of the unemployed is one of those ideas that is sold on the premise of common sense but quickly unravels when the complexity of the issues involved and their application become apparent. 

The idea is straight forward enough; those caught with drugs in their system will have their benefits quarantined.

 But what sounds simple in the mono-worldview of talk-back radio, becomes a difficult proposition on analyzing both the history of those who have trialed it before and the complex realities of addiction in society.  

One one hand the indignity, boredom and despair of unemployment lends itself in some instances to drug abuse. 

And there is evidence from trials this ratio of substance abuse can be higher among welfare recipients. 

On the other hand there is the all-too predictable outrage at misspent welfare.

Trying to build public policy out of a synthesis of this superficial understanding may appease a talk-back audience but is  likely to fail on higher objectives.  

There is for instance the cost factor. Drug testing is still expensive.

In New Zealand, $1 million was spent but only detected 22 positive results from 8,001.

Across four states in America  200,000 tests at a cost of over US$1 million resulted in 847 positive results. 

But beyond government expenditure the question of greater significance is whether the programs have worked.

The ultimate objective here is to wean people, welfare recipients or otherwise, off dangerous drugs.

But the consensus among many health experts is such a prohibition would do more harm than good. 

Some have worried that in some cases removing the finances would drive the more desperate and abject addicts to crime. 

Others more constructively highlight that the same $10 million the Federal Government has earmarked for the project would be better spent on rehabilitation and withdrawal programs, an area where there is widespread documented shortfall.