Drug test for unemployed raising questions, concern

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A bill making its way through the Arizona State Legislature could force the unemployed to take a drug test before getting an unemployment check.

Arizona state Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said he wrote Senate Bill 1495 to ensure people who get unemployment benefits are deserving. He doesn't consider anyone who uses drugs fit for assistance.

"If you are so fortunate to live in a nation to get an unemployment check ... when you're down on your luck, the very least you should be able to do is prove you're of sound mind and body to earn -- earn -- that benefit," Smith told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

“As a taxpayer I feel comfortable saying people who are receiving health care or welfare benefits shouldn't be doing recreational drugs – we would want them out looking for a job,” said Stuart Gethner, owner of Fairmont Pharmacy in Phoenix.

But he said it is not that cut and dry.

If SB 1495 passes, it would require the Department of Economic Security to set up a drug-testing program. First-time applicants for unemployment benefits who get a positive drug-test result would be required to wait 30 days to take the test again and could not get benefits in the meantime. Those already receiving jobless benefits would face random tests.

The bill will now be considered by the full House of Representatives. 

Gethner said a fair amount of his patients have expressed concern about the potential loss of their benefits; especially those who use medical marijuana.

And Gethner said he worries about the over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs that could trigger a false positive.

Prescription drugs that could show up in a drug test:
· Medical Marijuana
· Those with barbiturates including the brand names Nembutal, Pentothal, Prominal and their chemical names that generally ends in “barbital” such as Phenobarbital (used for prevent seizures).
· Opiates and their derivatives including those with codeine, hydrocodone, oxycotin, oxycodone, vicodin
· Those with Amphetamines such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat, Desoxyn,[2] ProCentra, and Vyvanse, as well as Benzedrine in the past.

“I think people would be surprised that so many meds we take daily could cause a person to fail this test,” Gethner said.

He has this advice -- not just for people applying for unemployment benefits who may be forced to drug test -- but for any consumer of prescription and/or over-the-counter medication:

1. Get a list of your prescription medications from your pharmacist (if you use multiple ones get a list from all of them).

2. Take a digital photo of all herbal or homeopathic medicines that you take, including the back of the label.

3. Make copies of your doctor's handwritten prescriptions and keep them in a file.

4. Have a list of all of your doctors and their contact information on one handy list.