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The LNP’s agenda for welfare. A clarification of what drug testing really means.

drugs lnp

This is a follow on from my previous blog post Drug Testing and the LNP’s ongoing stigmatization of the poor. After quite a large ongoing debate on Twitter and in comments yesterday, I wanted to clarify some points.

Here is the link to the news story relating to the previous blog post. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits. For those who haven’t caught up yet.

There were many comments following my last blog post, including quite a debate on Twitter. I am writing to clarify some comments and also the reason I have concerns with this move by the Government.

To answer some of the questions – Have I been drug tested? Who cares? No one’s business. What is my personal experience with drugs? Who cares? No one’s business.  Why are you “Pro-Drugs?” Um… I’m not.

I have found these Questions on twitter and in comments a bit weird. I’ve copped some odd questions in the past 24 hours, from those who support the drug testing of recipients of unemployment benefits.

Amongst other reasons, my passion for writing this story comes from two incidents when I worked in recruitment years ago. As we know many sites do pre-employment drug testing. There were a few times where people failed and they gave heads up prior to the test. When you do work in recruitment, you learn not to judge people as the most unlikely stereotypes have come back with a negative screen. This is what the Government is trying to do. Maintain a discourse and public perception of stereotypes – negative stereotypes.

Two incidents remain with me. One was a young lad who was on injections for a psych disability. He was well managed and was already working and was looking for a better job. He was a suitable applicant and the employer liked him and asked for the pre-employment testing to be done. He said he had trouble before with tests and had a letter from the hospital. He came back positive for three drugs (one was not THC, which is the most common negative screen). I remember one was amphetamines. The employer refused to take him (although he did have a letter) and the biggest one of all was the tester at the lab (the head tester, as I’d asked to go to the top) specified there was no way of knowing if he was on illicit drugs as well as injections and medications for psych illness. So no support from the lab to give to the employer. The employer said, even if he could, it would never get through head office. He was not hired. He left dejected, but understood as he was already used to misconceptions about who he was and had already experienced this before.

The other incident was another person who returned positive for THC (marijuana) . He and his wife were in tears insisting they were good people and had never ever taken any drugs. They were visibly shocked. He said that the night before he had gone to a club and his friends were smoking in the toilets. He said he was not. He said he didn’t even have a drink as he was designated driver (there was a lot of anxiety going on at this time – as I said he was nearly in tears, his wife was in tears). Once again the employer wouldn’t take him. Once again, I approached the tester and once again the head tester and they said passive intake is like a million to one. Highly unlikely. I approached my manager. She told me not to be so naive and had a laugh. I had a gut feeling this man was telling the truth, but my hands were tied. I convinced the employer to allow him to take a follow up test. I think it was the next day or the day after, he come back with a negative screen and got the job. He was there for longer than I was at the recruitment company and feedback was always good. (I also followed up and asked my own doctor about this and my doctor did not agree with the lab tester and said that passive inhalation for a positive screen can occur.)

The reason why I am passionate about this, as I have worked across all types of recruitment, private labour hire, Government Job Search and disability employment. I have worked with all different types of employers and all different types of job seekers, and I have seen inequity and unfairness in recruitment & selection, including drug testing.  As you can see in both examples given, the testers only look at the screen and don’t support any other reasoning for why. It doesn’t measure frequency. THC can show up for up to two weeks to a month for regular user of marijuana.  People will have their income revoked if the same thing happens to them. People will have their income revoked, even if they didn’t purchase said drug, but participated in a ‘recreational’ or ‘experimental’ activity for the first time. They will have a record as a ‘drug addict’

My previous blog post isn’t about drugs. My blog post is about the Government setting down rules that are ideal to them of what is good behaviour and deviant behaviour from their viewpoint.

For those that missed the message of my previous blog post, let me clarify:

      • It is about shaping society to believe that people on welfare are the most prominent group of drug users (deviant behaviour).
      • It is about the Government convincing the public that people on welfare are indeed deviants who waste tax payer dollars.
      • It is about shaping public opinion of ‘deviates’ to further attack the welfare system, payments and social supports. (How well has this worked for the the Government, in opposition and now on Asylum seekers).
      • It is about the Government’s outlook to attack minority groups and disadvantaged groups and not support them.
      • It is about the Government’s focus on punitive measures rather than preventative or support measures.
      • It is about reducing welfare, but implementing a costly measure to target certain groups, to change public perception.
      • It is about the insincere approach to the problem, as it is about cutting benefits and not referral for treatment.
      • It is about the Government knowing that some people will not have the self-efficacy to fight against unfair treatment.
      • It is about implementing a measure that has the potential to be ‘private’ so the LNP will not ‘discuss ‘on-drugs’ matters” They will merely say “it is working”
      • It is about the further stigmatization of people with a disability, as Australian statistics show a high number of illicit drug users have a co-morbidity of mental illness.
      • It is about the Government’s attempt to permeate our country with neo-liberalist ideology. The main aim is to be hands off, to privatise, deregulate, remove Government supports and set an agenda that people are equal and free to form their own relationships and pave their own way. We know in society this is not true for all people. We know in society, there are those that need support and assistance.

For those who say false positives hardly ever happen. This is why my previous blog post, addresses false positives. They may not happen every time, but there is an abundance of research in this area to support that they do happen. My two examples show that false positives affect real people, affecting real lives. In one town, in Australia, over a period of six months. Imagine this occurring on a wider scale.

We can clearly see from this agenda is that there is a risk of innocent people being taken off income, unfairly. We can see that there will be people stigmatized through this testing. We can see that there will be people who do not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process (example 1) and some that do (example 2). We can see that the person who did not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process had a co-morbidity of mental illness.  There will be people without a co-morbidity of a mental illness, who also will not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process. Especially those who have had negative experiences in the past with raising complaints and some who feel it is too complicated or may be fearful it may hurt them in the future.

For those that say that “most people I know on welfare are on drugs” or “They sell drugs outside centrelink.” There are also many who do not take drugs and need benefits to survive. There may be drug dealers outside your centrelink, but I haven’t heard of that in my town. However, I was approached in the laundromat once. Maybe people who need to wash their king sized doona at the laundromat are all drug users….not!

Australian statistics show that of illicit drug users 24% cite unemployed as their labour force status. 76% of drug users take up the other labour force status groups.  More interesting is the stats on socio economic status, which have for the most recent illicit drug users is 15% average across all groups. This clearly states that the highest socio economic status has exactly the same use experience as those in the lowest and middle socio economic groups.  So for those already convinced that nearly all those on welfare are all on drugs. The facts do not support your delusions.

The biggest frustration I have found in the last 24 hours within this debate, was that ‘people are off Tony’, ‘the Liberals are on the nose’ but so many still do not get what this party is about. They still do not ‘get’ the agenda of this Government.

Things I predict we can look forward to, if this gets through:

        • Further reduction in monetary support for those on welfare
        • Further extension of unpaid labour not supported by the protections of minimum wage and workplace health and safety.
        • An extension to other welfare groups, pensions etc., to drug testing
        • A higher forced take up of the basics card or a shift to food stamps
        • An increase in crime
        • An increase in poverty
        • A move towards removing minimum wage (as so many unemployed could be employed if we removed this red tape)
        • A move towards removing fairness clauses in the fair work act
        • A move back to individual agreements and the abolishment of collective bargaining and awards.

and most importantly

      • It is a move towards pockets of society screaming about the scum of the earth drug addled welfare recipients and how Labor can’t control them and how the Liberals have them ‘under control’

Before you think this is just about controlling drug use for people on welfare, or to stop people on welfare wasting tax payer dollars; please consider the above points as part of a whole agenda.

That is it from me, but feel free to add any more. I hope this clarifies that I am not ‘Pro-Drugs’ I am “Anti-Stigmatization” “Anti-Neo-Liberalism” and “Pro-Fairness” and “Pro-Support”.

 

Drug Testing and the LNP’s Ongoing Stigmatization of the Poor

corporate welfare

The message that the Abbott Government is sending Australians and the world, is that Australian people in receipt of welfare are lazy, drug addled parasitic bludgers who have the only aim in life of ripping off the tax payer. The constant use of ‘welfare recipient’ and ‘unemployed’ rather than the use of the positive ‘job seeker’; the punitive measures such as cancelling of benefits as a prime punishment; forced labour not supported by workplace health and safety protections, nor minimum wage all serve to create a negative stereotype of welfare recipients. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits.

Mandatory drug testing was flagged whilst LNP were in opposition, particularly pushed by the born to rule, privileged class of the Young Liberals.  The group who have the highest likelihood of being able to be supported by their parents as unemployed adults; being afforded the privilege of gaining employment with their parents or their parents friends and being afforded the privilege access to many other social benefits, such as never going hungry and never being homeless.

The underlying argument for drug testing of welfare recipients, is that people on welfare are drug takers and associate with drug addled groups of friends and they should not use tax payers money to do so.  The fact is, people across all levels of society can take drugs, so if the Government was so concerned about the use of tax payers money to purchase illegal substances then the following groups should also be tested.

  • All Government Scholarship Recipients
  • All Politicians, Federal, State and Local Government
  • All public servants, state and federal
  • Farmers who receive subsidies
  • Mining Magnates who receive subsidies
  • CEOs and  Board Directors in receipt of corporate welfare
  • All research groups in receipt of Government funded research grants
  • All CEOs and Board Directors of NGO’s in receipt of Government funding

If the concern is about drugs and not about stigmatising welfare; then testing of these groups can be supported by studies in the United States indicate that rates of drug and alcohol problems in welfare recipients were no greater than the general population, or non-recipients of welfare.

Some of the answers against testing all of these groups, would be the cost to the tax payer. However, so does the drug testing of welfare recipients. In fact, studies show that of States in the USA who have drug tested welfare recipients, only a very small percentage showed positive, as compared to the general population.  This will be a counter productive exercise which will in fact cost the tax payer a lot more than any recouping of welfare dollars.

The only real answer against testing the above groups, is that they do not make the list of groups that the Abbott Government has an agenda to stigmatize.

One of the biggest concerns cited within the literature surrounding random workplace drug testing, is that of a false positive. A false positive is where the drug test shows a positive result, but the recipient of the test is not an active user of illicit drugs.  The other concern within the literature is unfair dismissal, where it is too difficult to determine the length of time a drug has been in a person’s system and there is no measure of impairment and the result would not impact on the safety of the tasks performed.

Another concern, is that there is no way of detecting how it was administered. This includes being in the same vicinity of someone engaged in the smoking of cannabis (passive inhalation) or the biggest concern, pharmaceutical and prescribed medications and the ingestion of some foods.

Please see the appendix for a list of substances that can return a false positive in a drug test:

To put this list quite simply – the following common substances can return a false positive:

  • Poppy Seeds
  • Cocoa Leaf Tea
  • Herbal Medicines
  • Nasal Inhalers (ie as in the ones you use when you have a cold)
  • Cold and Flu tablets
  • Cough medications
  • Prescribed mental health drugs, including anti-depressives and anti-psychotics and ADHD medications
  • Ibuprofen (for example but not limited to: Nurefon)
  • Codeine (for example but not limited to: Panadeine Forte)
  • Pain relievers (for example but not limited to Tramadol)

The above information poses some serious questions:

  1. Will the Government be prepared to drug test all the non-welfare recipient groups listed above?
  2. If the Government is only prepared to drug test welfare recipients only, what is the argument that this is not to purposely stigmatise this group of welfare recipients?
  3. Is the drug testing of welfare recipients a demarcation of deviant and acceptable behaviour in society to shape the public view as negative towards welfare recipients?
  4. What studies has the Government done into False Positives in drug testing?
  5. How can the Government guarantee that income will not be stopped in the case of false positives?
  6. With the ongoing active stigmatisation of welfare recipients by the Abbott Government, what systems will the Government have in place to ensure that welfare recipients will not be unfairly treated and that their objections will be listened to, in the event of a positive result, that the recipient claims is false?
  7. In the case of a false positive, what research has the Government done on the self-efficacy of welfare recipients to use the complaints process?
  8. Knowing that common prescribed drugs and some foods can return a false positive, would Mr. Abbott and his Government also be confident that they will never return a positive drug test?
  9. What impact will this have on regional, rural and remote areas without drug testing clinics?
  10. Will drug testing be bulk billed, will the welfare recipient have to pay full cost, or will it attract the GP Co-payment Tax?
  11. Drug dependency can equate to disability. What are the scenarios for illicit drug dependent welfare recipients, who do not qualify for disability, but are assessed to work more than 15 hours per week and are on Newstart?
  12. Will the Government’s only agenda be to stop welfare payments, or will they be referring positive testers for treatment? If so, what is the cost to the taxpayer?  If the Government isn’t referring for treatment, why not?
  13. What impact will the removal of benefits have on the children of welfare recipients?
  14. For all the LNP politicians advocating initiatives that deny financial assistance to welfare recipients; on a scale of one to ten, (one being the least hypocritical and ten being the most hypocritical) what level of hypocrisy will be felt for those who will be participating in the 2014 Vinnies CEO Sleepout on Thursday 19 June?

This is quite a complex area and I have tried to be as brief as possible to hold the readers attention.
I would urge everyone who is concerned with this, to push this to the wider media and also to politicians to seek answers on this new “Government Initiative of Stigmatising the Poor.”

 
 
Bibliography:
Amundson, K, Zajicek, A, & Hunt, V 2014, ‘Pathologies of the Poor: What do the War on Drugs and Welfare Reform Have in Common?’, Journal Of Sociology & Social Welfare, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 5-28.
Begala, P. 2013. “Drug Testing for Congressmen.” Newsweek Global 161, no. 11: 1.
Berger, PB n.d., ‘Science misapplied: mandatory addiction screening and treatment for welfare recipients in Ontario’, CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 165, no. 4, p. 443-444.
Blank, A, Hellstern, V, Schuster, D, Hartmann, M, Matthée, A, Burhenne, J, Haefeli, W, & Mikus, G 2009, ‘Efavirenz Treatment and False-Positive Results in Benzodiazepine Screening Tests’, Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 48, no. 12, pp. 1787-1789.
Brahm, N, Yeager, L, Fox, M, Farmer, K, & Palmer, T 2010, ‘Commonly prescribed medications and potential false-positive urine drug screens’, American Journal Of Health-System Pharmacy, vol. 67, No. 16, pp. 1344-1350.
Chathanchirayil, S 2011, ‘False positive urine drug screening for tricyclic antidepressants in patients taking quetiapine’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 45, No. 9.
Fitzsimons, M, Ishizawa, Y, & Baker, K 2013, ‘Drug testing physicians for substances of abuse: case report of a false-positive result’, Journal Of Clinical Anesthesia, vol. 25, no. 8, pp. 669-671.
Gunders, L 2012, ‘Immoral and un-Australian: the discursive exclusion of welfare recipients’, Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-13.
Makkai, T, 2000, Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA): Drug Detection Testing, Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series No. 25.
Moeller, K, Lee, K, & Kissack, J 2008, ‘Urine drug screening: practical guide for clinicians’, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 83, no. 1, pp. 66-76.
Pollack, H, Danziger, S, Jayakody, R, & Seefeldt, K 2002, ‘Drug testing welfare recipients—false positives, false negatives, unanticipated opportunities’, Women’s Health Issues, vol. 12, no. 1, pp 23-31.
 

 Appendix:

List of substances that can return a false positive in a drug test

drugs

Trish Corry

trishcorry

trishcorry

I love to discuss Australian Politics. My key areas of interest are Welfare, Disadvantage, emotions in the workplace, organisational behaviour, stigma, leadership, women, unionism. I am pro-worker and anti-conservativism/Liberalism. I am a proud member of the Australian Labor Party and you will find my blog posts written from a Laborist / Progressive Slant.

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