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Wisconsin Governor Asking Trump to Help Drug Testing for Food Stamps

Wisconsin Governor Asking Trump to Help Drug Testing for Food Stamps

Author: Justin Mckibben

Drug testing for food stamps and other welfare benefits is a debate people seem to never get tired of having. Over the past few years there have been many state trying to use this kind of restriction in order to save money on benefits, but ironically these programs seem to have a history of being ineffective and actually costing the states money. Money which taxpayers provide. Even though the effort seems like a lost cause, many are not yet convinced.

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, apparently has no intention of giving up his mission to drug test welfare and food stamp recipients. Despite the continuous failures of such initiatives, the governor is persistent. Now, Walker has gone so far as to write a letter to President-elect Donald Trump, asking him to give his state permission to begin drug-testing residents who collect food stamps.

Dear Mr. Trump

In the letter Governor Walker wrote Trump on Tuesday, December 20, Walker echoed his desire to require that all able-bodied adults applying for food stamps have to submit to a drug tested, among other requests. Reports state that Walker’s letter said that states can

“-effectively develop and deliver initiatives that align with your goal to make America great again.”

Walker told the Associated Press that he was optimistic that President-Elect Trump would respond quickly once he has taken office. Governor Walker also released a statement reinstating his position regarding a state’s rights. He wrote that,

“Too often, states have become mere administrative provinces of an all-powerful federal government in Washington. Now is the time to reverse that trend. These requests are the first of many my administration will make as Wisconsin leads the effort to restore balance between state and federal government.”

Apparently Governor Walker adamantly rejects the idea that drug testing for welfare is discrimination. He seems committed to this cause, regardless of what the federal government or statistics have told him.

The Failure of Drug-Testing for Food Stamps

As it stands now, federal law prohibits mandatory drug tests for food stamp recipients. Still, that doesn’t seem to bother Walker, who sued the federal government last year for the right to drug test food stamp recipients and those who receive unemployment benefits. In this campaign for a stricter policy, Walker claimed the drug testing was to be if there was “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. However, the suit was never able to gain any traction.

The kicker is, even if Walker were able to make his plan for drug testing for food stamps a reality, these kinds of programs have proven time and time again to be an excessive waste of money and resources.

Some of the States that Tried Drug Testing for Food Stamps

  • In 2009, Arizona claimed that it would save $1.7 million annually by drug-testing welfare applicants. Yet after 6 years it had only saved approximately $4,000
  • In 2013, Missouri spent $493,000 on similar testing, butrecorded just 20 positive results.
  • In 2014, Mississippi launched a program drug testing for food stamps. Out of the first 5 months, only 38 people out of 3,656 were tested, and only 2 tested positive.
  • Tennessee had a drug testing for food stamps program, but it only ended up denying 30 people out of 28,559 applicants. Again, the cost of testing outweighed the cost of benefits saved.
  • Florida lost out BIG with their drug testing for food stamps program. The state recorded a loss of $45,780… after only a four-month period from July to October 2012!

Not to mention it was later revealed by the American Civil Liberties Union that Scott had spent $400,000 in taxpayer money to defend his program and appeal the court rulings that it was unconstitutional, a fight which he inevitably had to give up.

These are just a few examples of failed initiatives requiring drug testing for food stamps.

The Problem in the Programs

In a serious shade-throwing piece regarding Wisconsin’s run for drug testing for welfare, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated last year,

“Governor Walker hasn’t read the law. It’s always a good idea before you start litigation to understand what the law is.”

In a similar discussion in 2014, the USDA told the state of Georgia,

“Requiring SNAP applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits would constitute an additional condition of eligibility, and therefore, is not allowable under law.”

This debate always comes to the argument of “if someone has to drug test to have a job, others should have to drug test to get taxpayer money in the form of welfare.” The reality is, not everyone has to drug test in order to get a job. Clearly, as these past few years we have seen a massive hike in drug abuse, overdose and drug-related fatalities. To insinuate that all these people are unemployed is just ridiculous.

My favorite idea was to require drug testing for the wealthy to receive tax breaks, but that idea didn’t get quite as much support from government officials for some weird reason.

Another side of that implication is why many are offended by these programs, because they believe it assumes everyone who is poor and needs government assistance is a drug user. Even beyond that, others say it is harsh to deny those who could possibly be struggling with drugs and condemn them to a cycle of crime and abuse.

Either way, Wisconsin’s governor seems pretty confident that the way to “Make America Great Again” is by drug testing for food stamps, no matter how many times it has been ineffective or far too expensive to justify.

An addict isn’t ‘scared straight’ by these kinds of tactics, and our country is seeing the importance of treatment instead of punishment. There is a way out, and Palm Partners is here to provide effective treatment for those willing to seek help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free  now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

New York City Considering Safe Heroin Injection Sites

New York City Considering Safe Heroin Injection Sites

Author: Justin Mckibben

Back in February of this year the mayor of Ithaca, New York began pursuing a plan that would establish safe heroin injection sites in Ithaca in an attempt to battle the opiate epidemic raging across the country. This controversial harm reduction tactic is getting brought up a lot more lately. Other states are also looking into starting up similar contingencies for their citizens. Now, the Big Apple is set to spend quite a bit of money and resources investigating the merits of safe heroin injection sites. That’s right, New York City is now taking a closer look at how safe heroin injection sites operate, wondering if it might be a decent plan after all.

Talking about the tab…

One of the big things people seem to be focused on right now is the money. Some believe providing addicts with a clean, medically supervised facility to use is a waste. They believe that what it will be doing is promoting heroin addiction while enabling it, all at the city’s expense.

So far, the tab is already pretty steep. The City Council has announced it will be allocating $100,000 to study the practice. This money will go to the Health Department for a nine-month study to determine whether it makes sense to open safe heroin injection facilities.

Shouldn’t be much of a surprise that these desperate times have called for such desperate measures in New York City. The study comes as the Big Apple is still reeling from a record 937 fatal drug overdoses in 2015, a 66% increase since 2010. With 2016 coming closer to the end, it is a wonder if this will be another record year for the five boroughs. Overdose death rates are a huge factor in a lot of new movements for change.

What are safe heroin injection sites?

Safe heroin injection sites are facilities where intravenous drug users are permitted to use the drug intravenously under medical supervision. The sites offer a place where addicts can use without fear of arrest, in case of an overdose. The idea is to have staff trained and available to be able to save lives. At the same time, the hope is to reduce other risks associated with intravenous drug use.

Several safe heroin injection sites already exist in dozens of cities outside the United States. Should America be next? Some of the countries who use this practice include:

  • Canada
  • Europe
  • Australia

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito commented saying,

“It’s been done and been implemented in other areas [of the world], so we just want to look up what the viability would be in New York,”

This seems like a pretty fair response to the epidemic; trying to explore and educate officials on more options that could help. And beyond reducing overdose deaths, HIV and viral hepatitis transmission, safe heroin injection sites work to connect addicts with drug-treatment options. So it isn’t just about giving them a safe place to get high, but also making them feel safe and supported whenever they try to get help.

Conservatives in opposition

But of course there is a great deal of opposition. Michael Long, the state Conservative Party Chairman, claims the $100,000 could-

“- be put to better use than sending a message that it is OK to use intravenous drugs as long as you use a government-sanctioned place.”

However, the reality is that the money is being utilized in a way that serves it’s initial purpose. $5.6 million is already set aside in the city budget to combat AIDS. The $100,000 for the safe heroin injection site study is coming from that bulk of finances.

So while surely some would not be all for spending the tax-payers dollar on researching “legal drug dens” the truth is the money is going somewhere that could make a huge difference to the effect of what tax-payers originally intended it for.

The safe heroin injection study

According to a council memo, as far as the actual study itself, the researchers will review data that pertains to:

  • Health conditions and disease transmission related to heroin and other injected drugs
  • Evaluate existing supervised injection facilities
  • Assess legal issues
  • Input from select “city officials and community experts”

This isn’t the first radical idea on this side of the country. Seattle is also considering safe heroin injection sites. Earlier this year, Boston opened a facility where addicts can use under safe medical observation. However these people have to inject drugs elsewhere. This doesn’t seem like as good of a plan, because it’s basically asking for addicts to use and drive. Still, it is some kind of innovation in a different direction.

Preventing of death and the spread of disease is vital. As the death rate escalates in relation to heroin addiction and infections caused by intravenous drug use, prevention is increasingly important. These programs may be controversial, but the cost of losing lives is a lot higher than spending some money looking into alternatives.

Beyond harm reduction, there is real recovery. Real recovery begins with effective and innovative treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call now. You are not alone.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Passes Senate

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Passes Senate

Author: Justin Mckibben

Back in March we talked about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and how Republicans had been less than willing to vote for additional funds to be added to the legislation. In the face of an overwhelming outbreak of heroin and opiate addiction some would say it still falls short. However, as of Wednesday the Senate will advance the legislation forward.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) is a critical piece of policy for fighting addiction in America. While it may still be an imperfect reform, it is still something to work with. Thankfully, life is about progress not perfection.

A Victory for Fighting Addiction  

Some of the primary purposes of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act are to:

The whole intention, as we have stated before, was to formally authorize the federal government to utilize a more compassionate response system in address addiction. This would replace relying on prison and a cycle of punishment that only feeds into the problems so closely connected to drug abuse such as poverty. The bill is a product of:

  • Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio
  • Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island

Despite concerns over funding, Democrats in the Senate decided not to block the measure. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed with a rousing 90 votes for and only 2 against.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, stated:

“By increasing prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement tools, CARA can help prevent more people from struggling with addiction to begin with, and it can help foster long-term healing for those already struggling with addiction,”

It is more than logical to attack the issue with addiction on the back-end while also address the root causes. Hopefully this new legislation can follow through.

Money Makers Make It

As far as objections go, there were plenty despite the Democrats being willing to pass the act anyway. When the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act had pushed through the House last week in a nearly unanimous decision there was already concern. Democrats had offered up and amendment to provide $920 million to fighting opioid abuse. Republicans shot this proposal down. The emergency funding provision would have allocated additional financial backing for various innovative programs including:

  • $230 million to law enforcement initiatives, including treatment alternatives to incarceration
  • $10 million would have gone to state and local law enforcement units that oversee communities with high levels of drug use
  • $300 million for state programs focused on prevention, treatment and recovery, and for improving treatment for pregnant and postpartum women dealing with heroin or opioid addiction.

Consider all the work that needs to be done in order to support these initiatives. Why doesn’t more money make it through? Regardless, Democrats recognized the severity of the situation and voted to pass the bill. During the floor debate in the Senate it was noted that more money is needed to provide support for:

  • Mental health workers
  • Law enforcement
  • Addiction beds at addiction facilities

Still, there is some hope for more funding. Republicans have assured they will work to include additional funding in 2017 appropriations legislation. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer stated,

“Until we pass the increase in resources for both law enforcement and treatment, we cannot say Congress has done what is necessary to solve and fight the opioid crisis,”

This is absolutely true. Without putting your money where your mouth is it will be far more difficult to fight this fight. Providing lasting and diverse support for addiction treatment means investing in it. With the prominence of addiction in this country, it is an investment in our own future.

Reforms aimed at addressing addiction and supporting recovery are no walk in the park, but the fact that addiction is being viewed as the health issue it is, not the moral failing people once assumed it was, shows progress. Hopefully support for addiction treatment will grow and more lives will be saved. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135  

Medical Marijuana Plan Pass in Ohio House

Medical Marijuana Plan Pass in Ohio House

Author: Justin Mckibben

In a historic turn of events for legislators in the home of the Buckeyes, Ohio lawmakers in the House have passed a medical marijuana plan after an extensive debate reaching across both sides of the aisle.

For the years leading up to now the House has opposed plans to legalize marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, despite all efforts put forth by advocates in the area. Now in a surprising turn of events they have approved a plan 71-26 just this Tuesday. The bigger

For the first time members of Ohio’s GOP-controlled House had a serious discussion about medical marijuana after they found themselves feeling the pressure with two medical marijuana efforts working toward the November ballot.

What Changed?

Probably the biggest influence on this shift was that recent polls determined the majority of Ohioans are much more interested in legalizing medical marijuana rather than marijuana for recreational use. The change may have come when they realized with so many issues being taken with Big Pharma and the abuse of prescription drugs, a more progressive push towards alternative medicine might not be as terrible as they once considered.

For House Democratic Representative Dan Ramos from Lorain, this was the focal point of his opinion. Ramos expressed that he believes medical marijuana is a needed alternative to opiates for some chronic pain patients, and cited the opiate epidemic for his reasoning with a dramatic demonstration.

Ramos held up a sheet of paper saying it represented the total number of people who have died of marijuana overdoses…

The paper was blank.

By comparison, he exclaimed that 2,020 deaths were linked to opiates in 2014 – nearly 80% of all overdose deaths. This probably had a profound impact on the lawmakers, seeing as how Ohio has seen a lot of devastation from the opiate epidemic and overdose outbreak in the past few years.

Setting the Boundaries

House Representative Stephen Huffman is actually the bill’s GOP sponsor. Huffman is an emergency room physician from Tipp City, and in talks about medical marijuana he stated this new proposal is what’s best for patients after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration failed to act. After reciting a heavy helping of the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take to care for patients, Huffman passionately argued,

“I am absolutely convinced that there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.”

Still, Ohio’s GOP-controlled legislature isn’t quite as open to accepting ALL forms of medical marijuana… so don’t get ahead of yourself just yet. The bill sets up stern restrictions, including:

  • It would not allow patients to grow marijuana at home
  • Patients are not permitted to smoke it
  • Employers can still fire employees for having marijuana in their systems, even if it is recommended by a physician
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC- the chemical that gives users their “high”) would be limited to 35% of plants and 70% of extracts

However, one of the loopholes for the smokers is that patients could use a vaporizer, which heats marijuana into a gas or stream rather than burning it to smoke. The bill has changed in some noteworthy ways since it was introduced last month. One way is that it specifies about 20 conditions that would benefit from medical marijuana, including:

  • AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy or another seizure disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Traumatic brain injuries

The commission could add other diseases as needed. Other changes include:

  • Allowing parents and caregivers to possess marijuana to administer it to someone else
  • Requiring identification cards for patients AND caregivers
  • Creating a program to help veterans and others afford medical marijuana

Even with the changes, medical marijuana advocates fear strict restrictions on doctors will deter physicians from recommending medical marijuana to those who could possibly benefit.

Various Concerns

The spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana is Aaron Marshall, and one thing that troubles him about this bill is that while the House seems to be taking at least some action toward alternative medicine, the law should be tailored to benefit patients and not hinder their treatment. Marshall commented,

“If they are going to use the threat of our ballot issue to pass a bill through the House, it should be a patient-focused plan that will actually provide medical marijuana to those in need,”

It is worth mentioning that several of those who opposed the bill did so for reasons concerning the patients, not so much out of an outright opposition to the idea. For example, Democratic Representative Alicia Reece from Bond Hill, along with five other Democrats, voted against the proposal because it fails to protect workers who use medical marijuana recommended by a physician. Reece said she was “torn” on which way to vote. While she believes in the value of the treatment, Reece says she feared more people, especially African Americans, would be sent to jail for small amounts of medical marijuana or fired from their jobs for a testing positive and that they would not be protected by law. Her opinion was simply,

“Should it be a bill or should it be taken to the people and be in the constitution?” I’m always a believer in the people. I always think the people know best.”

Many of the other House lawmakers remain hopeful that the voters will embrace their measured approach over the two ballot initiatives working toward the November ballot. These measures are currently being pushed by Ohioans for Medical Marijuana and Athens-based Grassroots Ohio. They two movements have been working on collecting the 305,591 signatures needed by July 6 to get their own plans on the ballot.

The bill will be going before the Ohio State Senate before long, and minor changes are expected there. Ohio Governor John Kasich could find himself sitting down to sign-off on it by the end of the month, and Kasich himself has said he would support a medical marijuana proposal if it were property written and there was evidence that the need was there.

So, the question becomes will Ohioans prefer this new House approved option over the other two plans outlined by community advocate organizations. Does this plan stand to help provide alternative treatment while effectively preventing drug abuse and other issues associated with drug abuse and addiction? If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

 

Senate Republicans Block Big Money for Fighting Opiate Epidemic

Senate Republicans Block Big Money for Fighting Opiate Epidemic

Author: Justin Mckibben

Politics around drug policy have been pretty up in the air the last few years as the government scrambles to try and wrap their collective heads around the severity of the opiate epidemic. Over these past few months especially we have definitely seen a lot of talk about changing the way drug policy treats people to more compassionate approach, as well as there being a huge push for more resources and funding made available to fight back the growing issue.

While the progress have become a bipartisan effort, it seems the Republican party is still very hesitant to put the money where its mouth is, because just this week on Wednesday Senate Republicans voted to block $600 million in emergency funding for the very purpose of helping fight the opiate epidemic; money that was intended to be utilized in cultivating the monitoring of prescription drugs and to help law enforcement combat the heroin epidemic in communities across the country.

CARA Budget Cuts

CARA stands for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The bill was initially sponsored by:

  • Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio
  • Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island

The intentions of CARA are to formally authorize the federal government to take a more compassionate and less punishment-dependent  approach to drugs and the heroin epidemic, change drug strategy toward prevention, combined with a reform of the broken treatment industry, while also establishing an interagency task force to create best practices for prescribing opioids.

This week Republicans prevented an amendment in a 48-47 procedural vote from being attached to the CARA bill, which seems ironic since last time we checked this whole thing was being held up because many people were skeptical to approve it with no money attached.

The emergency funding provision would have allocated additional financial backing for various innovative programs including:

  • $230 million to law enforcement initiatives, including treatment alternatives to incarceration
  • $10 million would have gone to state and local law enforcement units that oversee communities with high levels of drug use
  • $300 million for state programs focused on prevention, treatment and recovery, and for improving treatment for pregnant and postpartum women dealing with heroin or opioid addiction.

Remaining funds from the provision would have been used to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its drug monitoring programs, along with increased medication-assisted treatment in high-risk communities.

The Problem with Politics

The amendment was authored by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. While the original CARA bill is bipartisan and an effort three years in the making, with a great deal of reaching across the aisle  between senators in both parties, Shaheen’s measure was seen as the one “controversial” amendment.

Some drug reform groups were not pleased with the hundreds of millions of dollars in the measure that would have gone toward enforcement, stating that CARA is clearly a step in the right direction, but the measures being written to extend law enforcement seemed to be a little too familiar to the 1980’s War on Drugs. Along with them many Republicans argued that millions of dollars were already appropriated to tackle heroin and opioid addiction in the omnibus spending bill passed in December, so these additional funds were overkill. Now don’t get it wrong, some Republicans did actually vote with Democrats in favor of the bill, including:

  • Republican Senator Rob Portman- Ohio
  • Republican Senator Mark Kirk- Illinois
  • Republican Senator Lindsey Graham- South Carolina
  • Republican Senator Susan Collins- Maine
  • Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte- New Hampshire

And that is probably because the Democrats argument makes a lot of sense, seeing as how this amendment was because Democrats wanted emergency funds to be made available to help communities grappling with the problem. To further explain this Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement,

“The omnibus provided a modest boost to key federal programs, but it did not begin to address the magnitude of the opioid crisis. What the omnibus didn’t provide was a way to direct funding to first responders and treatment providers quickly. My amendment fast-tracks urgently needed resources specifically to those on the front lines battling this pandemic.”

So it seems that many feel the initial ideas going into the fight against the opiate and heroin epidemic are important but somehow a lot of politicians, specifically Republican Senators, feel there is a need… but not enough need to really make a radical move toward putting money into the programs that are trying to save communities.

While it is too early to say whether or not the CARA bill will be able to be as effective without these additional funds, it is troubling that some politicians still see this as desperate times that don’t necessarily deserve desperate measures.

While both parties of the political process seem to think the heroin epidemic is important, only some seem committed to that progress. Despite the short-comings however, there is progress, and recovery is about progress- not perfection. Every day more people are being shown a new way of living through holistic healing and innovative addiction treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please do not wait. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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