Drug testing will stigmatise welfare recipients, says GP

Neelima Choahan

26/04/2018 3:17:13 PM

A Federal Government push to trial drug testing welfare recipients is an ‘expensive blunt instrument’ that will stigmatise people, Sydney addiction medicine specialist Dr Hester Wilson told newsGP.

Drug testing welfare recipients: A solution or a problem?
Drug testing welfare recipients: A solution or a problem?

The Federal Government’s proposal to test welfare recipients for drugs like ecstasy, marijuana and methamphetamines (including ice) was part of the 2017–18 federal budget, but was referred to a Senate inquiry which held a hearing on Tuesday in Logan, Queensland.
If the bill is passed, 5000 new youth allowance and Newstart recipients will be tested over two years across three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown (NSW); Logan (Qld), and Mandurah (WA).
Dr Hester Wilson, who is Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine network, told newsGP the proposal is ‘appalling’.
‘If the outcome the Government is looking for is to save money on Centrelink or to stigmatise people and beat them for their issues then, yeah, maybe it will do that,’ Dr Wilson said.
‘But it is not going to, in my mind, particularly improve the health and wellbeing outcomes of people.’
Welfare recipients who test positive will be placed on a cashless debit card for up to two years, with 80% of their funds quarantined for essentials such as childcare, rent and food. A second drug test will be scheduled within 25 working days of the positive result.
The testing, which will be conducted by a private contractor, will include saliva, hair follicle and urine testing. The Government has said the tests will coincide with ‘random’ Department of Human Services (DHS) appointments; however, job-seekers will be selected using government data profiling candidates believed to be at a higher risk of substance abuse issues.
Federal Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan told newsGP welfare recipients who failed the test would not lose any money.
‘If they fail a second drug test they will be referred for a medical assessment and rehabilitation may be added to their job plan,’ he said. ‘The Government has provided an additional $10 million for extra treatment support in the three trial locations.
‘The Government has also provided $1 million for an independent third party to evaluate the trial while it is in operation, so any serious unintended consequences can be addressed.’
But Dr Wilson said treatments for drug and alcohol issues had best outcomes when patients were not forced to seek treatment.  
‘The conversations need to be around accessing treatment voluntarily, because you want to have the best life possible and we want to support you to have the best life possible, rather than this  punitive focus on a particular group in our community,’ she said.
‘One of the issues for some of the people that I see is that sense of powerlessness in their lives. This is another hoop that they have to jump through … once again having their control taken from them and being targeted and stigmatised.
‘This testing to me it is an expensive blunt instrument that is not going to achieve good outcomes.’
Dr Wilson said the proposal sought to target people on welfare.
‘Drug and alcohol issues are not just limited to people on welfare,’ she said.
‘Many of the people that I see that have drug and alcohol issues are working full-time, are in a high socioeconomic group.
‘Drug and alcohol issues don’t discriminate, but our Government wants to.’
Dr Wilson said the trials being proposed are in an area of limited resources and would increase GPs’ workload.
‘[Canterbury-Bankstown] is another area where there are limited services,’ Dr Wilson said.
‘There is Canterbury Hospital, which is part of Sydney Health district, but they have limited, limited capacity.
‘They are a small organisation, they don’t have a huge workforce. And that is also an area where GPs have expressed concern that they don’t have capacity, they don’t have the skills, they don’t feel that they have the confidence and there are people to send [patients] for support.’
Dr Wilson believes dealing with drug and alcohol issues is a complex issue and the Government needs to provide GPs with more resources to better tackle the problem.
‘Supporting people to change and improve their lives around their drug and alcohol use can be quite complex and it can be time consuming,’ Dr Wilson said.
‘GPs are not remunerated to do that work, and there are limits to specialist support services for us to engage with.
‘So if [the Government] wants to make a difference to this, they should put their money into increasing capacity and better supporting GPs.’

cashless-debit-card Centrelink Dan-Tehan Newstart welfare-drug-testing

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leslie weidenhofer   6/09/2019 7:45:11 PM

what a load....... i have to be able to drive and drug free every day before i can make 70cents (after tax!) , andthats just to get to work. Im sure, if they're collecting our taxes, they will be able to make the effort to be clean enough to collect the money.