Most pharmacists think the government’s proposal to drug test welfare recipients is not only a bad idea but potentially harmful, as the third test site is announced
The Coalition has put forward a bill that outlines a proposal for a two-year trial of drug testing welfare recipients in three regions, starting 1 January 2018.
It will involve mandatory testing of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance, with those who test positive to illicit substances including methamphetamine, MDMA and THC subject to income management and financial penalties.
In a recent AJP poll on the topic, 35% of respondents have said they believe the government’s proposal is “not only a bad idea, but will be harmful to those involved”.
And 35% of respondents also believe that “there needs to be a completely different focus on medical treatment as opposed to punitive measures.”
One quarter of pharmacists (24%) think “it’s a bad idea and won’t work”.
However 22% are hopeful, thinking it will help by highlighting people who need to go into treatment for drug dependency.
Twelve percent of respondents believe it will help people by giving them initiative to get off drugs, and 11% think “it’s the best we can come up with right now to solve a difficult situation”.
A further 13% believe the current penalties aren’t strong enough, and the government needs to “crack down” on drug use.
The majority of health professionals have come out against the proposals.
“Addiction cannot be cured by a punitive measure, certainly not one as simplistic as this,” Victorian pharmacist and harm minimisation advocate Angelo Pricolo told AJP.
“The majority of the people targeted are already struggling with finance so creating more debt for them may drive them to riskier behaviour.”
Leading medical organisations including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australian Medical Association, St Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service, and Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation have all spoken publicly against the proposals.
On 27 August, Minister for Social Services Christian Porter announced that Mandurah in Western Australia is to be the third and final location to trial drug testing of new job seekers.
Minister Porter said high rates of drug abuse in Mandurah impacted the whole community.
“Without assistance, many people with substance abuse problems can’t or won’t take action to help themselves and that’s why we need to trial new approaches,” the Minister said.
He said some measures like income management have already been used in the area.
“Income management has already been used in Mandurah and is a proven and effective tool to help welfare recipients manage their money to ensure their basic living needs are met and, consequently, limits the amount of cash available to fund illicit drugs.
“There are almost 1300 BasicsCard merchants in Mandurah and surrounds, including major supermarkets.”
Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney’s west has been identified as the first trial site, and last week the government announced Logan, Queensland, as the second location to trial drug testing of new jobseekers.