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Drug testing trial will hurt, not help Australians on welfare

April 2018

Addiction medicine specialists have criticised the Turnbull Government’s proposal to drug test up to 5,000 new welfare recipients.

Experts voiced their concerns at a public hearing for a Senate inquiry into new legislation which would allow drug testing to be trialled in Bankstown, Mandurah and Logan.

Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ (RACP) Chapter of Addiction Medicine said the drug testing trial is clinically inappropriate and won’t address substance dependency. 

“Doctors can have a difference in medical opinion but when it comes to the Government’s plan to drug test Australians on welfare, we generally agree this is a policy designed by people who don’t understand substance abuse and addiction,” said A/Prof Reynolds.

“This proposal is not evidence-based, goes against previous expert advice and is likely to be clinically harmful to people suffering with addiction. It will further marginalise a population that already experiences a greater burden of physical, psychological and social ill health. The end result is likely to be a worsening of substance use disorder that will have ripple effects on the wider community.

“What this proposal also fails to recognise is the services required to meet the current demand for treating drug dependency, simply don’t exist.

“There are already 16,000 welfare recipients who have told the Government they are struggling with drug and alcohol problems and can’t meet their job seeking requirements. The Government should be helping these people and connecting them with treatment services, not wasting money on a drug testing trial that won’t work.”

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, St Vincent’s Hospital Addiction Specialist, and President-elect, RACP Chapter of Addiction Medicine, said that rather than helping people with substance use disorders receive the treatment they needed, the policy would make life harder for many.

“I know from my work with vulnerable patients that pushing people to the brink financially does not improve their treatment outcomes,” said Dr Lloyd Jones.

“There are a number of compliance measures in the proposed trial that we believe will increase the financial hardship faced by this group, compound existing disadvantage, and make it harder for people to overcome substance use disorders.

“For example, a person who refuses to take a test – even if out of fear or anxiety – will have their payment cancelled automatically, and cannot apply again for four weeks. Even if a person decided to come back even the same or next day for testing, they would lose four weeks of payment.”

Dr Kym Jenkins, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) said that the RANZCP strongly supports people receiving treatment to address and support their addiction issues, however the RANZCP has significant concerns regarding the proposed drug testing pilot program.

“This is more than just a substance misuse issue; those referred for testing and possible treatment are likely to be individuals with complex, multi-faceted concerns affecting their physical and psychosocial health, such as housing issues, employment and intergenerational deprivation.”

“The RANZCP notes that addiction treatment resources are already extremely stretched, and many regions of Australia are out of reach of specialists. There can be lengthy waiting lists for people who are voluntarily seeking help from addiction services, let alone those who are required to attend as a result of random drug testing.”  

The New Horizons report authored by Alison Ritter and colleagues found that approximately 200,000 Australians seek treatment for addiction each year and a further 200,000 to 500,000 Australians are unable to access the treatment they need.

Media contacts:

Melissah Bell (RACP) 0415 111 503

Paul Andrews (St Vincent’s Health) 0409 665 495

Jessica Antcliff (RANZCP) 0437 315 911

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