Why is it that the same conservatives who so desperately want “big government” out of our lives are at the same time so darn eager to have officials involved in our urination? Despite major studies showing that suspicion-less drug testing is not an effective means of identifying or deterring drug use, state and federal officials continue to promote it. That is true of both school-based drug testing and random workplace testing.
In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott (a Republican) attempted to require anyone seeking benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to submit a urine sample. No suspicion was required, nor was any previous arrest or conviction for a drug-related offense required. Being poor was the only suspicion needed. Federal courts declared the program unconstitutional, although Scott spent nearly $400,000 fighting the court’s decision. And Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the 3,938 TANF applicants who tested negative for drugs. Only 2.6 percent of people who were tested during the four months that the Florida program was in operation had results positive for drugs—a rate far lower than drug use among the general public. In fact, more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of Floridians over the age of 12 who are estimated by the federal government to use illegal drugs. Tennessee’s program saw only one person out of the 800 who applied for assistance test positive.
In 2012, Georgia passed the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, a virtual carbon copy of the recently-debunked Florida law, which requires all benefits recipients to pass a drug test. Note the name of the law, which highlights the disgusting assumption that persons receiving benefits cannot be trusted to be socially responsible or accountable unless they take a piss test. In all, at least 28 states introduced some type of drug testing for benefits recipients in 2012. The infatuation with drug testing poor people has not ended. In early August, Republican Governor Paul LePage of Maine announced his plan to drug test people applying for TANF, although at least this proposal is limited to those who have previous felony drug convictions.
It’s not just the poor who are targeted, however. Officials seem to believe that all teenagers are up to no good, hence a continued increase in school-based drug-testing. This fall, three Catholic schools in Ohio are drug testing their entire student bodies, requiring students to submit hair samples. Closer to my home, the Miami Dade Public Schools announced it will begin randomly testing students this fall as well. In 2011, Linn State Technical College in Linn, Missouri, enacted a controversial policy requiring drug testing for all incoming students and some returning students. It was declared unconstitutional in 2013. It seems the only people immune from being tested are lawmakers themselves, as John Stewart so keenly pointed out when he requested that Florida Governor Rick Scott submit to a urinalysis.
Of course, while testing programs are not cheap, with the cost passed on to taxpayers, the drug-testing business has fast become a multi-billion dollar industry, with huge amounts spent on lobbyists who demonize the poor and vulnerable in order to line their own pockets. They argue, as do the lawmakers who they buy, that people shouldn’t worry if they have nothing to hide. That’s bunk. Our excretory processes should be among the most private activities, hence why we have laws against public urination and, even in our own homes, most of us shut the door to the bathroom.
To be clear, I have no problem with drug testing based on actual suspicion. Clearly, if someone appears to be impaired by drugs in the workplace or at school, this suspicion could justify use of a urinalysis. But for increasing numbers of high school youth and people in need of public services, no suspicion is needed. Rather, it is simply presumed that they must prove their innocence by whizzing in a cup.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.