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Letters to the Editor

Drug testing no answer

Kevin Burns March 7th, 2012

Trust me: I know it feels good to take the stand that we don’t want our welfare dollars going to drug addicts. I still believe that, but I also used to think that universal drug testing to make that stand was the answer.

First, some background. The state Department of Human Services already does some drug testing as a condition of receiving a check from the government. Basically, the way it works is that the applicant is interviewed by a DHS employee, and if that employee thinks you are on drugs, a drug test is ordered. (I’m not sure what fraction of applicants are “thought” to be on drugs.)

As it stands now, 5 percent of those people tested come up positive. The current test checks for the presence of five drugs. The proposed legislation would require drug testing for all applicants. The tests would check for 10 drugs, rather than five, and the applicant would pay for the test up front, then be reimbursed if he passes.

Having the applicant pay for the test may constitute an undue burden. From a legal standpoint, we are not treading virgin ground here. Michigan tried this in 2003, and was struck down on Fourth Amendment reasons. Florida tried it last year, and there is a standing temporary injunction to block their implementation, again on Fourth Amendment grounds. If we go down this road, we’ll be making a trip to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver in short order.

From an economic standpoint, we, the taxpayers, will ultimately pay for the drug testing of the 95 percent who prove clean ($50 per test, let’s say), in exchange for saving the payment of benefits of the 5 percent who fail the test. If that by itself is a winning proposition, and I’m not sure it is to begin with, ensure that you subtract from that “profit” the cost of defending the coming slew of lawsuits. In the end, this bill will likely end up costing much more than it would save, all in the name of principle.

—Kevin Burns
Midwest City

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