Better to pay for drug treatment than testing

State Rep. Lonnie Napier thinks the more than 600,000 Kentuckians receiving food stamps, Medicaid or other public assistance need to be randomly tested for drug use once a year.

He says each test would cost about $30, which means the total annual tab for the program could exceed $18 million.

If the Lancaster Republican seriously wants to combat the scourge of drug abuse in Kentucky, there are far better ways to spend that amount of money. Forcing everyone receiving public assistance to submit to drug testing has several readily apparent down sides.

People who are denied assistance because they fail a test or those users who don't even bother seeking help because of the test requirement may well turn to crime to feed their habits. If there's one thing Kentucky doesn't need, it's more drug-related crimes putting more people in an already overcrowded corrections system.

Napier's proposal also paints with an extremely broad brush, broad enough to stigmatize anyone who applies for food stamps, Medicaid or other assistance programs by suggesting they must be using drugs. As a result, some people who really need help may decide not to apply just to avoid humiliation.

In addition, the impact of denying assistance to anyone who fails one of these tests goes beyond the individual drug user. Spouses and children would be affected as well.

Napier's bill has 13 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo. A better way for them to combat drug abuse in Kentucky would be to take the money their House Bill 208 would spend annually on testing and use it to fund an expansion of drug treatment programs. A task force looking for ways to reduce the state's prison population heard testimony that the 2,812 treatment beds the state has now don't come close to meeting demand. Another $18 million a year won't fill the whole gap, but every extra bed helps.

The Fayette Alliance was incorrectly identified on the Jan. 17 Feedback page. It is an advocacy organization that promotes and lobbies for sustainable land-use policies.