Do you think drug testing for welfare recipients will work?

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The Government has begun to plan its establishment of a drug testing trial for welfare recipients through the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, which is now before the Senate.

Starting 1 January 2018, the government intends to roll out two-year trial in three regions, which will involve mandatory random testing of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance.

Testable drugs will include methamphetamine, ecstasy, cannabis and opioids among others.

Find out more about what will happen if recipients test positive here.

The controversial proposal has received a lot of backlash from drug and alcohol experts, but the government maintains it is trying to help those who are unemployed and have drug dependency issues.

What the government says:

Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter: “Evidence shows that people who are unemployed can have higher rates of drug use, and we all know that using drugs is a barrier to gaining employment. It is not about penalising or stigmatising people who have a barrier to employment, which is as serious as drug abuse.  We want to help people in this situation.  Failure to do so simply leaves people at risk of a cycle of welfare dependency.”

Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge: “We are supporting drug and alcohol services, but we also know we need to look at new interventions that can help people to overcome drug abuse issues. The Government is committed to trialling new approaches to tackle drug abuse among some welfare recipients as we know there are levers within our welfare system to help address this problem.”

What the experts say:

Dr Adrian Reynolds, Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) President of the Chapter of Addiction Medicine: “Addiction is a complex health issue. Drug testing welfare recipients and removing their support won’t connect them with the treatment and rehabilitation services they need. This policy will fail and it will lead to poor health outcomes for this community.”

Associate Professor Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Service: “This is the key question: can the government point to a single piece of evidence – here or overseas – that shows the likelihood of this approach succeeding? They can’t because it doesn’t exist.”

“If you discriminate against them, if you impair their return to full functioning by labelling them as a drug user, then you impair their ability to get their life back on track.” Dr Michael Gannon, President AMA.

Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo, Director, Department of Addiction Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne: “These disincentives won’t work to help people off drugs. A much less expensive and more effective approach would be to use the already existing flags within the welfare payments system – which indicate when someone is struggling with their drug and alcohol use – and support these people to access health services in a timely way.”

Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation: “We have tried punishing people struggling with severe drug problems for half a century and it hasn’t worked. These proposals are exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

Dr Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA): “If I had to put a nasty star on the Government’s last Budget, it was this mean and non-evidence-based measure. This is not an evidence-based measure which will not help. We don’t expect people in most industries to have drug testing before they turn up to work. It’s simply unfair and it already picks on an impaired and marginalised group.”

Pharmacist and harm minimisation advocate Angelo Pricolo: “Addiction cannot be cured by a punitive measure, certainly not one as simplistic as this. The majority of the people targeted are already struggling with finance so creating more debt for them may drive them to riskier behaviour.”

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