Fighting on all fronts

January 03, 1991

The biggest question about Maryland's new random drug testing policy is, in three words: Is it constitutional? Requiring employees arbitrarily to submit urine samples is an issue the Supreme Court has not yet decided. But when the state embarks on testing this month, the bottom line will be: Will it work? And the answer is, that depends.

In part it depends on whether people will fully participate. Under the new policy, 13,000 state employees who hold safety-related jobs will be subject to the test. Those who test positive for drug use will be suspended for 15 days and required to seek drug treatment. This is a key component of the program, since merely identifying drug use serves little purpose. Still, mandating treatment is not the same as getting it, especially since many insurance plans don't provide adequate coverage.

There are questions about the program's impact. Maryland is really fighting two distinct drug wars -- one in the inner cities, which are permeated with drugs and violence; the other among the middle class, where drug use has been declining for years. The state's program focuses on the latter, leading some to suggest that resources might be better spent on treatment centers in the city. Perhaps, but the state should fight drug addiction wherever it occurs. Still, it is unrealistic to expect that the overall effect of this program will be more than minimal.

Nonetheless, the focus on fighting what seems to be a winning battle among middle-class users makes the point more clearly than ever that if Maryland is really serious about stamping out drug abuse, it needs to do more to fight the other drug war, too.

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