Skip to content Skip to navigation

Drug testing issues making national headlines

May 1, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, contributing Editor
| Reprints
A healthy dose of policy news, especially pertaining to drug testing of public aid recipients

If public debates about the merits of drug testing and of testing technology have any role in shaping how testing is carried out in the addiction treatment and recovery communities, then a whole lot of opinion-making has been happening over the past several months.

From a Comedy Central reporter crashing the Florida governor’s press conference to suggest that he submit a urine sample, to the public debate over whether Major League Baseball’s testing procedures altered the results of a test for last year’s National League Most Valuable Player, the period from December into the spring featured more public discussion of drug tests than at any time in recent memory.

It remains to be seen how some of the current topics in the national headlines affect the public’s judgment on the legitimacy and validity of drug testing, and whether that means testing will become more or less entrenched in sectors of society beyond the drug treatment and criminal justice arenas.

Public aid recipients

Most of the discussion around drug testing in the national media in recent months has centered on some states’ quest to tie the receipt of public aid benefits to the passing of a drug test. USA Today reported in late February that 23 states were considering some form of legislation that would mandate drug tests for recipients of public assistance.

Florida adopted such a law last fall, but an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal challenge has placed its enforcement in a holding pattern. Missouri and Arizona already require testing for welfare recipients in cases where reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use exists; Florida’s challenged law requires testing of all welfare beneficiaries.

Some states in their review of policies are considering additional measures, USA Today reported, such as restrictions on benefit eligibility for state residents who have been convicted of a felony drug offense.

Opponents of testing requirements for welfare beneficiaries say these measures would stigmatize recipients of public aid, and they wonder why this particular class of individuals is being singled out in several states’ proposals. Supporters of the measures argue that they are being proper guardians of public funds.

Clearly the biggest battleground state in this ideological tussle right now is Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott has been a vocal backer of more widespread use of drug testing. While Scott’s initiative to test welfare recipients awaits court action, he and some state legislators have continued to try to toughen testing requirements in multiple areas.

Two Florida state legislators failed in this year’s legislative session to broaden a current state law that denies temporary cash assistance and food stamp payments to individuals convicted of drug trafficking offenses. The proposal that would have added felony drug possession offenders to the list of ineligibles passed the state House of Representatives but did not reach the state Senate floor for a vote.

The measure would have allowed felony possession offenders to remain eligible for the temporary cash assistance and food stamp benefits if they had completed drug treatment.

Meanwhile, Scott made progress in his effort to expand drug testing procedures to target state employees. In mid-March he signed into law a measure requiring that state government departments in Florida randomly test up to 10% of their workforce once every quarter.

The ACLU, which had challenged a 2011 executive order from Scott to mandate random testing of state workers, was expected as of press time to challenge the new law as well. The ACLU calls these various moves in Florida unreasonable government searches without suspicion.

The lawsuit that the ACLU filed last year in Florida to challenge the welfare measure was brought on behalf of a 35-year-old veteran and college student who said that he should not be required to take a drug test when there is no suspicion of drug use on his part.

The law that is now in limbo requires benefit recipients to pay for the tests, with the state reimbursing them if the tests are negative.

Braun case

The specter of Major League Baseball’s “steroid era” re-emerged last fall and winter when it was reported that Milwaukee Brewer star Ryan Braun had been found to have extremely high levels of testosterone in a urine sample taken in October. Then in February, an arbitrator on a three-person panel tipped the balance in favor of Braun, whose 50-game suspension under baseball’s testing policy was overturned.

That controversial decision led to rampant speculation about whether it had been found that Braun’s sample had been adulterated or otherwise compromised after collection (no official evidence was presented at the time to indicate that), and whether there were any problems in general with baseball’s testing protocols.

It appeared as the spring began that Braun’s claims were not being as well-received in the media and among many baseball fans as they were in the appeals panel. Comments from Los Angeles Times columnist and former sports editor Bill Dwyre were representative of many viewpoints in the media; he concluded in a Feb. 27 column, after bemoaning the shroud of mystery surrounding the Braun affair, “Sadly, we are left wondering whether root, root, root for the home team also means pray, pray, pray that our cheaters are better at it than yours.”

Topics