As a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, I read Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal in L.D. 1407 to require people screening positive for drugs to get treatment in order to get Temporary Assistance to Needy Families with keen interest.

In general, I think it is a good idea to require people getting public assistance to get help for problems that may contribute to their need for help. So I have no objection to urine tests or use of the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, a one-page paper and pencil test that identifies people who suffer from substance dependence, as part of the process of applying for this benefit.

However, I also know that screening must be followed by a more comprehensive assessment before diagnosing a problem and prescribing treatment. So the law should not require treatment until the reason for the positive result of the screen has been ascertained. Positive urine screens, for example, can be produced by use of legal over-the-counter medicines such as antihistamines. And SASSI can be positive for substance dependence even though the problem has long since been resolved. My SASSI is still positive after more than 40 years of recovery.

Finally, I object to reducing substance use issues to the catch phrase “reprehensible lifestyles.” Research shows that they are complex medical problems with clear genetic and neurochemical issues as well as poor choices and lifestyle concerns. In this, they are like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers.

All applicants for public assistance should be given a complete mental and physical evaluation and whatever help they need to resolve issues that may have caused them to ask for TANF. In the long run, these steps would enable troubled people to overcome their barriers and become productive citizens.

David Doreau


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