You might be surprised how easy it could be to put a “fix” on the methamphetamine problem that our country is now facing.
I recently attended an educational conference for county judges and commissioners in College Station. One of the classes presented concerned county costs associated with illegal drugs. The speaker that day was Mr. Scott Burns, an official from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Mr. Burns told the judges and commissioners that many school districts around the United States are instituting mandatory random drug testing, and that it is having a great effect. Some students had welcomed the drug testing and were even using it as a “coat of armor” to help them overcome the peer pressure to experiment with illegal drugs. My thought was that this is great, but many of those filling up our jails are adults. So why not take this kind of approach toward the adults as well?
At the end of the class, Burns asked for comments. It was just the moment I had been waiting for. Now I could mention an idea which had been spinning in my head for the past 10 years. I told Mr. Burns, a representative from the White House: “The federal government has all kinds of rules and requirements concerning individuals receiving any kind of monetary government assistance, so why not institute a requirement that everyone receiving government welfare assistance be drug tested! Mr. Burns took a long pause and then announced that he would go back to Washington and present the idea to President Bush! His announcement was met with quick applause.
I really feel this kind of measure would take a “big bite out of crime.” I would estimate that it would affect 70 percent to 80 percent of those using drugs, since drug addiction knows no bounds. Whether a person is rich or poor makes no difference. We all know that a wealthy meth user will soon become a poor “meth user.”
My reasoning comes from 20 years of experience in helping individuals in crisis. Not only do I serve as a Potter County commissioner, but I also serve our community as the executive director of Cornerstone Outreach Center of Amarillo Inc. Cornerstone is a non-profit organization which gives food and clothes to more than 35,000 individuals each year. Our outreach center sees clients each week who are struggling with drug addictions.
During the past 10 years I have counseled with many clients who needed random drug testing to help them break free of their drug addiction. Many of our clients would confess that they used government assistance money to fund their drug habit. In fact, they were using their Lone Star food stamp card to purchase food items. The food items would then be exchanged for cash to buy drugs. It seems our government is unknowingly enabling individuals to purchase drugs.
The “fix” is random drug testing! Many of our staff and volunteers are former drug users who have managed to overcome their addiction by way of drug testing and accountability. When drug addicts know that they are going to be tested on a regular basis, it gives them a weapon to fight their addiction. The numbers presented by the gentleman from Washington, D.C., did not surprise me.
During the six years I have served as a county commissioner, I have watched our jails fill to the maximum. It has been estimated that 80 percent of those in our county jail are imprisoned because of drug-related crimes. It only makes sense to identify those on drugs before they are locked up behind bars.
Once someone has a felony conviction, it is very difficult to find a job. Do the taxpayers want to support such an individual the rest of their life? Why not identify them through random drug testing and then put them into an outpatient treatment facility which would keep them out of our county jails. This would also allow that person on drugs to become a productive member of society, rather than a convicted felon.
Once identified as a drug user, the government benefits should continue provided the individual gets help and continues to pass routine drug tests. There should be a “three strikes and your out” policy associated with the program. It costs between $30 and $50 a day to keep someone in a county jail. What kind of preventative measure could be done for that amount of money?
Two years ago while attending a government seminar I was presented with a statistic that I will never forget: Seventy percent of those children whose parents are behind bars will also become locked up! We must take drastic steps now before another generation is lost. I feel that random drug testing is a start in the right direction.
By Potter County Commissioner Joe Kirkwood