Dr Moy, Chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee has stated that “the trial penalises and stigmatises those with an addiction… fails to treat their condition as a health issue and …there is no evidence from international trials that this approach works.” Dr Moy is concerned that alcohol and drug services are not resourced to provide the long-term care needed to treat and rehabilitate those with drug dependency. This will simply add pressure to a service system that is already overstretched.
Professor Ritter, Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program UNSW, has stated that the $10 million in funding to increase alcohol and other drug services in the three sites is inadequate. Funding of alcohol and other drug services needs to double, with an additional $1.2 billion needed to fill the current unmet need of 500,000 people. Rather than wasting resources drug testing everyone on Newstart and Youth Allowance, the money would be much better spent increasing alcohol and other drug services for voluntary clients. The policy is paternalistic, based on the premise that people cannot make decisions for themselves and “it will increase the stigma for those with alcohol and other drug dependency, making them less able to seek the help they need.” The facilities, infrastructure and workforce are not available to meet this demand. The trial will most likely result in voluntary clients being removed from services to make way for mandatory clients. (ABC, Radio National, 11 Sept 2019)
In its 2017 submission to the Senate on the previous Welfare Reform Bill, the Royal Australian College of Physicians stated that the proposed drug testing regime “is not supported by current evidence.” They further commented, “It is clear that drug testing regimes are not only expensive but also fail to identify problematic drug use.”
In 2013, the Australian National Council on Drugs, which is a key advisory body on drug policy to the Australian Government, advised “there is no evidence that drug testing welfare beneficiaries will have any positive effects for those individuals or for society, and some evidence indicating such a practice could have high social and economic costs.”
The National Drug Research Institute concluded that the proposed drug testing trial “is not based on reliable research, and there are no grounds for adopting it as a measure to reduce alcohol or other drug use or related harm. Instead it has the potential to increase harm, including stigma, marginalisation and poverty.”
In its previous submission to the Welfare Reform Bill, the Australian Medical Association raised a number of concerns about the drug testing trial. These included:
- an insufficient distinction between people with substance dependence and those who are occasional or one-off drug users;
- a lack of any additional funding commitments for drug interventions to help people referred because of the testing at a time when demand for treatment in Australia already outweighs availability of services;
- the potential for an increase in criminal activity because of the trial and greater incarceration rates for people who need drug treatment;
- the lack of costing for the drug testing measures;
- the potential for a treating medical practitioner’s diagnosis and advice to be disregarded by medically unqualified people or agencies; and
- the lack of a clear evaluation framework for an intervention whose efficacy has not previously been proven.