Triple Drug Tests for New Drivers in West Virginia?

By Tony O'Neill 02/20/13

The state's politicians are notable for their enthusiasm for random drug testing (almost) across the board.

Driving tests could get even more harrowing.
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Prospective teen drivers in West Virginia would find themselves having to take a minimum of three drug tests before getting their full licenses, under a proposal introduced yesterday in the West Virginia House of Delegates. It seems that someone in the Charleston courthouse has a real fetish for mandatory drug testing: House Bill 2528 is just the latest in a series of drug-testing bills introduced there in recent years. Some of the other recent targets for random drug testing were welfare recipients and coal miners, while another controversial bill would require health care providers to release minors' drug-test results to their parents. And what's more, West Virginia currently has no protections for employees against unfair workplace testing. According to the man who submitted the latest bill, Republican Joe Ellington, "the goal was: they really want to get that driver's license—their incentive would be to not use anything and maybe not bow down to peer pressure to succumb to drug use." Potential drivers would have to pass drug tests before receiving their learner’s permit, then their intermediate license and finally their full license.

The apparent willingness to erode civil rights in the state crosses party lines. Last year it was a Democrat, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who introduced an executive order requiring participants in the state's job training programs to undergo mandatory, suspicion-not-required drug testing. This program proved a costly failure after only netting only five failed tests over its first six months. Neither was it an isolated example: In 2011 Putnam County School District drug tested 1,072 6th-to-12th graders at a cost of over $50,000. The result? Fewer than 1% of the students tested positive. So that’s $50,000 to catch fewer than 10 drug-using students. Bafflingly, while the schools tested for "amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, phencyclidine, barbiturates, cocaine, opiates and marijuana" they didn’t bother to test for alcohol, which is the most commonly used and abused drug among teens in the US. The reason, says Danielle Gillispie, Putnam's coordinator of drug prevention and education, was that testing for alcohol and steroids was “too costly.” No bill has yet been proposed to find out exactly what some of West Virginia's politicians have been smoking.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.