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"Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: Reductionism, the fear of the other and the craving for certainty"


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Paper presented at the Issues in Crime and Justice Conference, Wellington, NZ 11th June 2013

Published in: Education, Health & Medicine
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"Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: Reductionism, the fear of the other and the craving for certainty"

  1. 1. Drug testing beneficiaries:Widening the net of punitive populismJulian BuchananInstitute of Criminology, Victoria University of WellingtonIssues in Crime and Justice Conference11th June 2013 Government Building, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand
  2. 2. USA policy transfer?
  3. 3. Drug testing offers….The seductive attraction of newtechnology in an era of reductionistbinary thinking, when organisationsand individuals crave certainty andfear the ‘other’
  4. 4. Parentchilddisaster
  5. 5. New technologies driving policy andpractice
  6. 6. Urine
  7. 7. Fingerprints
  8. 8. Saliva
  9. 9. Hair
  10. 10. Sewage Waste Analysis
  11. 11. The Concern?DRUGS
  12. 12. Misleading Bifurcationof SubstancesNZ PsychoactiveSubstances Bill
  13. 13. Extent of Drug UseThe cultural dominance and preference of middle aged (in power)for alcohol, tobacco and caffeine?
  14. 14. An alternative scientific model of drug harm
  15. 15. Technology Driven Drug Policy:The sobriety tag
  16. 16. US to NZ Policy-Transfer:Drug testing built into to US styled Drug AbstinenceCourts rolled out in New Zealand
  17. 17. Drug Testing BeneficiariesGovernment will stop benefits for repeatedfailed drugs tests from beneficiaries to NZ Policy-Transfer
  18. 18. Punitive Populism• Around 40% jobs listed with Work and Incomerequire drug tests’• beneficiaries who fail a test will have the cost of thedrug test deducted from their benefit.• Where people fail a drug test or refuse to apply fora drug-tested job, they must agree to stop usingdrugs or their benefit will be cut by 50 per cent.They will be given 30 days to allow any drugs theyhave taken to leave their system.• Where they fail a test or refuse a second time, theywill have their benefit suspended until they agreethat they will provide a clean drug test within 30days. If they do not do this their benefit will becancelled.• She said estimates at the high end put the cost ofenforcing the policy at $10 million. "We really thinkthe real cost is around $3 million for those that willbe known as dependent, once this testing comes in.The savings are estimated to be around $10.5million."
  19. 19. New TechnologiesNew business opportunities
  20. 20. Ex-law enforcement officers working for and sometimes owning drug testing companies
  21. 21. Issues
  22. 22. Drug testing– a game of cat and mouse
  23. 23. New businessopportunitiesto avoiddetection
  24. 24. Drug policy, harm and human rights:A rationalist approach (Stevens 2011)So the answer to the question of whether there is a right to druguse appears to be yes. But it is a rather small yes. People mayrationally choose to experience the effects of psychoactivesubstances, even if they have no objective need for them(p.236)It may be the case that ideology will continue to dominate drugpolicy… Drug policy debates need not be seen as a merely matterof personal preference, political tradition, technocratic calculationor legal interpretation. They are an arena for rational and ethicalargument.(p.238) [my emphasis]
  25. 25. Little or no distinctionbetweenUSE and MISUSE
  26. 26. Liberty, Freedom and Human Rightsto take drugs“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that ofpursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do notattempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts toobtain it.” John Stuart Mill On LibertyThe individual should be free to do what they wish with theirlife so long as it doesn’t harm other citizens
  27. 27. PresenceorImpairment?Little or no distinctionbetween….
  28. 28. Dodgy scienceIncident + drugs = causal relationshipProblem = drugsSolution = make people ‘drug’ free
  29. 29. Causalrelationship?Causalrelationship?
  30. 30. Zero ToleranceAbstinence Based Policy‘the regulation of drugs should reflect theprinciples of harm reduction which underpinthis country’s overarching drug policy’p.47NZ Law Commission (2011)Undermining stated harm reduction policy
  31. 31. The new war on drugs?Strategic change from war ondrug cultivation and supply, towaging war on illicit ‘drug’ usethrough an ever intrusive drugtesting regimes, yielding newbusiness opportunities andjustification to exclude largenumbers of unemployed peoplewho are currently surplus tocapitalist requirements?
  32. 32. Variable detection periodThe detection times of abused drugs are extremelyvariable. … In urine the detection time of a single dosevaries between 1.5 and 4 days. In chronic users, drugs ofabuse can be detected in urine for approximately 1 weekafter last use, and in extreme cases even longer incocaine (22 days) and cannabis users (up to 3 months).Verstraete, A.G., 2004. Detection times of drugs of abuse inblood, urine, and oral fluid. Ther Drug Monit 26, 200–205.
  33. 33. Reliability ConcernsFalse positives &false negatives• Human error• Technology error• Significant human variation• Detection avoided by intervention• Detection triggered by ‘innocent’ means
  34. 34. Increase use of new more dangerouslegal highsIf cannabis can stay in thebody for up to a month –sometimes even 3 months-some beneficiaries mayswitch to other moreharmful drugs?
  35. 35. ‘we are doing what other good employers are doing’Cashman C.M., Ruotsalainen J., Greiner B.A. et al.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: 2009, 2, Art.No.: CD006566. Exhaustive Systematic Review finds justtwo rigorous studies of workplace testing for alcoholand/or drug use of people employed as drivers.Testing employees in the workplace foralcohol and drug use is commonplacein some countries but its effect inreducing occupational injuries remainsunclear.The state of the evidence is insufficientto be able to advise for or against drugand alcohol testing of occupationaldrivers as the sole long-term solutionto preventing injuries in the context ofworkplace culture, peer interactionand other local factors.Politically driven policy-based evidence rather thanscientific evidence-basedpolicy
  36. 36. Claims about saving money in doubt
  37. 37. Need forevidence-basedharm reductionapproach
  38. 38. Issues for us all – but beneficiaries will• There will be a move away from cannabis• Switch to other illegal drugs or legal highs• Purchase masking agents• Carry ‘clean’ urine• Test positive ultimately lose benefit be driven into poverty• Without benefit resort to crime…… for what benefit or gain?
  39. 39. Drug Testing conclude1. Unreliable, over simplistic and costly2. Breach of human rights3. Unrealistic, intolerant and excludes people4. Unnecessarily targets ‘use’ (presence) not misuse (intoxication)5. Promote abstinence undermines national harm reduction policy6. Perpetuates a misleading drugs apartheid7. Promotes politically driven policy-based evidence rather thanscientifically informed evidence-based policy8. Encourages use of more dangerous substitute substancesThank