Drug Testing for Public Assistance Applicants Would Help People Access Care

March 14, 2011
I recently signed onto legislation that, if passed, would require those applying for public assistance to undergo a drug test. This is a small request to make of any applicant seeking public assistance. If the applicant tests positive for drug use, this would help him or her receive access to drug treatment so they can focus on recovery, as well as providing for themselves and their families—even possibly to the point where they may not need public assistance.

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services estimates that one in seven state residents (2.5 million) suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD) or problem gambling. The agency estimates that 11 percent, or 1.8 million, state residents age 12 and older (including 160,000 adolescents ages 12-17) experience a SUD (substance dependence or abuse) annually. Our laws and public benefits should be designed to help people and put them on the path to recovery. If people on public benefits are using drugs, we are enabling an illegal drug habit paid for with the help of public benefits—the very public benefits that were designed to help people feed themselves and their families when times are tough and help close the gaps that the economic downturn has created. Studies show that when the economy is struggling, families and providers struggle, too. Crime is up, drug use is up and poverty increases. Those who have lived with drug addiction and those who treat people in rehab have seen firsthand how drugs can tear families apart.

Currently, if someone processing a benefits application suspects an applicant is using drugs, the applicant is recommended for drug testing. However, this methodology is flawed, with too much room for interpretation. If a user is aware of any kind of red flags a screener is looking for, much can be done to hide or disguise these warning signs.

There would be some minimal costs associated with drug testing, which would ultimately save taxpayers’ money in the long run. Funds which are spent on drug screening, drug treatments and prevention, would theoretically save money spent on welfare and crime.

Recovery stories and assistance

I invite you to read recovery stories from New York State residents. Two years ago, Gov. Paterson began an effort with the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services to log firsthand accounts of people who underwent a successful recovery—from drugs, alcohol or gambling. The site is called I Am Recovery. There are hundreds of stories on this site that detail what life is like living with addictions. Many have found help and have recovered. They are from all different walks of life. One writer, Rachel, a young mom who lives in New York State, shared the following:

“Addiction started for me at a very early age. I can remember as far back as fifth grade—the first time I had even heard about drugs—and telling myself I wanted to try them all. My childhood was near perfect, no troubles at home, no abuse of any kind, but I never felt comfortable in my own skin and didn't like who I was… What I want the people who haven't yet found recovery to know, is no matter how much pain you are in right now, there is an end other than death. You can choose today to stop the pain and start a new life in recovery. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and neither does recovery. No matter who you are, where you live, no matter what your addiction is or how long you’ve been using, there is always a way out.

There are many more stories like this. To read, visit the I Am Recovery Web site. To find treatment options, visit www.oasas.state.ny.us or call 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369).

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.