Drug test debate

Should employees and school children be tested for possible drug use? The question is hotly debated in Finland as information about a steep rise in drug use has become available. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health estimates that there are between 11,000 and 16,000 hard drug users. The number of people experimenting with drugs is much higher.

A working group set up by the ministry has now published its interim report, recommending mainly voluntary drug tests. An employer can impose a drug test on employees or job applicants if the job can endanger their own or other people's life and health. Also in schools and other educational institutes voluntary tests can be carried out. The working group emphasises the rights of the people tested; an employee should not be be penalised in any way if he or she refuses a test.

Employers' representatives in the working group would have preferred a tougher attitude. They ask why athletes and drivers have to agree to tests but criminal use of drugs shouldn't be tested in schools and work places. The trade unions on the other hand have opposed obligatory tests.

A recent poll showed that almost half of the Finns support an obligatory drug test, an almost equal number as those against. In a leading article, the Swedish-language Hufvudstdasbladet (11 July 2001) says, however, that support seems to be weakening and opposition gaining ground. The newspaper says that one must strike a balance between concern about an individual's health and well-being and his or her personal freedom and integrity.

"Looking for the right balance means deciding how far society's guardianship can go even when the intention is good.

"And even if the intention of drug tests is reasonably good — to help a drug user to give up the addiction — the effect can in the worst cases be directly opposite. By identifying and stigmatising a drug user and eventually depriving the person of a job or study place, he or she has been possibly harmed rather than helped."

Hufvudstdasbladet agrees that there are jobs which a person on drugs cannot be allowed to take on, like driving in traffic. The paper, however warns that tests have technical problems.

"Cheap quick tests are notoriously unreliable and can be manipulated. The result can also be distorted by completely innocent factors like medicine against something as ordinary as a cough."

The latter point is also made by Kansan Uutiset (11 July 2001) which adds that a person who has once been tested positive will be carrying the stigma the rest of his or her life.

The regional newspaper Turun Sanomat (11 July 2001) supports obligatory tests.

"By not allowing obligatory tests in work places and schools, by for instance referring to individual rights, one only avoids the real problem and gives in to organised crime."

See also:

Brave new working life

27 March 2001

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