Commentary, News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Say what? GOP changing its tune on drug testing for public assistance

The conservative Washington Examiner reported yesterday that Republicans in Congress may be backing off of their support for requiring food assistance beneficiaries to submit to drug testing.

This is from an article entitled “Opioid epidemic quiets GOP calls for food stamps drug testing”:

“Republican leaders say they will reject a drug testing requirement when they consider food stamp legislation this week, a dramatic change in position that’s mostly a response to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said he’ll vote against any drug testing amendment to the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, otherwise known as the Farm Bill, which is set for committee markup Wednesday.

‘Given the heightened awareness today of the opioid crisis in this country as well as other drug addictions, punishing people at this point in time when we are working to get them off these programs may be counterproductive,’ Conaway said.”

Hooray for Rep. Conaway! As with the American Right’s better-late-than-never conversion on the broader question criminal justice generally — where even the Koch Brothers and their minions have finally come to the realization that the nation’s mad rush to lock up a huge proportion of its population was hugely wasteful and doomed to failure — the flip flop is extremely welcome. The sooner that Americans of all ideologies finally learn to treat drug abuse as a public health crisis and non-abusing drug use by adults as an entirely private matter, the better.

Still, as with so many other policy shifts resulting from the opioid crisis (e.g. the conservative “180” on the availability of opioid reversal drugs and clean needle exchange programs), one can’t help but wonder if this change would have happened if the most publicized face of American drug abuse was still a person of color using crack rather than a down-on-his-luck, white Midwesterner addicted to painkillers.

The hard truth is that, for decades, America’s war on drugs has been a war on African Americans. Now that conservative whites are finally waking up to the reality that drug addiction and the behavior associated with it can afflict people of all backgrounds, let’s hope it opens more eyes to racial inequities that continue to plague so many other aspects of our society.

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