Drug testing welfare recipients and refusing assistance to anyone who tests positive is now as familiar an idea as it is controversial. But a new report that highlights the ineffectiveness of Florida's short-lived welfare testing program may make other states think twice before adopting similar measures. The findings are taken from Florida from July to October 2011: between when Governor Rick Scott signed the legislation in support of welfare drug testing, and when a federal judge blocked the law on the grounds that it violated Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches. Only 2.6% of the welfare applicants failed their drug tests—or 108 out of 4,086 in total. In addition, reimbursing the costs of the tests to welfare applicants who tested negative outweighed what the government would have disbursed to people who failed, ultimately costing the state $45,780. Georgia became the most recent state to approve welfare drug testing, and a recent USA Today report shows 23 states have considered enacting similar laws.
It seems Sarah Palin isn't the only questionable woman to come out of Wasilla. 37-year-old Rebecca Renae Powell, the owner of AK Contractors Bookkeeping Services, was fittingly arrested this Tax Day for allegedly preparing false tax returns for drug dealers and helping them hide their black market proceeds. Few details are known about the men, only identified as "D.J." and "D.H," but it's reported that Powell concealed D.J.'s income from growing and selling marijuana since 2003 and D.H.'s income from selling pot and heroin since 2007. The charges say that Powell "fabricated both income and expense figures and created false invoices, bills of sale, and other documents designed to substantiate the fabricated figures in the event of an audit or other inquiry," and that she was knowledgeable of the drug dealer's true earnings. "The problem with drug dealers is they have all this cash they want to get into the legitimate banking system," says Assistant US Attorney Thomas Bradley. "They want houses, they want cars. They have real income, but they have to make it look legitimate so they can get house loans and car loans."
Eddie Van Halen opens up about alcoholism and getting clean in the May issue of Esquire Magazine; the 57-year-old guitar legend says he partly blames for his father for his alcoholism. “The funny thing is, about the whole alcoholism thing: It wasn't really the partying,” he explains. “It was like—I don't mean to blame my dad, but when I started playing in front of people, I'd get so damn nervous. I asked him, ‘Dad, how do you do it?’ That's when he handed me the cigarette and the drink. And I go, Oh, this is good! It works!" He adds, "For so long, it really did work. And I certainly didn't do it to party. I would do blow and I would drink, and then I would go to my room and write music.” After being in and out of different rehabs for a month at a time, Van Halen hit a wall in 2006, and decided to stop drinking. But instead, to handle his nerves on stage, the guitarist was given the benzodiazepine Klonopin, which he also got hooked on; he became “catatonic” when coming off that drug. "All I wanted to do was stop drinking. But instead I literally could not communicate,” he says. “Yeah, I was gone. I don't know what dimension I went to, but I was not here." In time, Van Halen felt better after doctors gave him amino-acid treatments. After trying various rehabs and programs—including 12-step—without success, Van Halen just finally decided he was done for good. “When they say, ‘You can't say, I will never drink again,’ I can honestly say I will never drink again. It's a whole new world,” he says."It's a sullen truth, but [this year's A Different Kind of Truth] is the first record I've made sober.”
The US government's drug control strategy should focus more on prevention and treatment, and less on incarceration of drug offenders, said the White House on yesterday. A new strategy is planned, aiming for a middle-of-the-road approach: it will counter both the push for drug legalization, as well as the aggressive “War on Drugs.” It also calls for changes to the probation-and-parole system—sending non-violent offenders to substance abuse treatment programs instead of jail—and for more community programs to provide addiction education and outreach. "This is nothing short of a revolution in how we approach drug abuse," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Although overall drug use is down in the United States, more Americans than ever are dying from drug-induced death, even more than from gunshot wounds. This underscores the need for different approaches for drug control, one that treats drug addiction as a disease, in which drug-related crime is addressed in a fair and equitable manner. We can't arrest our way out of the drug problem.”
In line with a more comprehensive understanding of addiction, the new policy will embrace three concepts: first, that addiction is a disease that can be treated. Second, that people with substance use disorders can recover. And third, that criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest. Building on previous innovations from the Obama administration, the new plan outlines over 100 actions that can be taken in place of criminal enforcement. These included drug screenings, brief interventions, referral to treatment and the Affordable Care Act, which according to Kerlikowske, “will make drug treatment a required benefit from all that suffer from substance abuse."
While a drug addicted judge isn't anything new, Tennessee Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's situation is one of the more egregious cases in recent memory. Baumgartner, now 64, stepped down from the bench in March 2011, pleading guilty to a single count of misconduct—after a series of incidents that might shock even those who've heard it all. The former judge first became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed them for pancreatitis caused by "chronic alcoholism," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file. While he supposedly had a variety of doctors prescribing him Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax and Valium, when the docs couldn't deliver fast enough Baumgartner had ample access to those who could: people who had graduated from his drug court. One of them, Deena Castleman, told agents that the married judge paid her bills and had sex with her, occasionally in his chambers. Nor was Baumgartner's illicit work behavior limited solely to sexual acts, since he also allegedly made drug deals during breaks in court. But the judge has never been punished for his actions: not only was the felony conviction wiped off his record—he was also able to avoid jail and keep his pension.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been appointed to re-hear Baumgartner's former cases and is overturning some of the convictions, including one that involved a death sentence; it's estimated that Baumgartner presided over more than a thousand cases and that re-trying them could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Prosecutors are appealing these decisions, claiming that Baumgartner was actually sober when he came to them. Michael Cohen, the Executive Director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, a non-profit that helps addicted lawyers, judges and law students, says that ultimately Baumgartner's situation is "no more shocking than a construction worker being addicted and doing shoddy construction." Cohen adds, "You can't look at the situation and say he should be held to a higher standard because of his job. That goes against everything we know about the fact that addiction is a disease. He's an addict first and a judge second."
- Colorado's Proposal to Legalize Pot Gets Big Push [Huffington Post]
- Supreme Court to Weigh Crack Cocaine Sentences [LA Times]
- Infographic: Why Legalizing Marijuana Is the Best Thing for America [Online Paralegal Programs]
- Feds Bust Online "Farmer's Market" for Online Drugs [Information Week]
- Experts See Hopeful Signs on Eating Disorders [LA Times]
- Drinking On The Job? Please Do, Say These Employers [ABC]
- Is It a Good Idea to Refuse to Hire Smokers? Fort Worth Considers It [Houston Chronicle]