POLITICS
10/30/2014 07:34 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2014

Ballot Measure To Drug-Test Doctors Draws Backlash

Lise Gagne via Getty Images

A proposal to randomly drug-test doctors in California is stealing the spotlight from the medical malpractice reform measure it was attached to, and drug-reform advocates have united against it.

California residents will vote Tuesday on Proposition 46, which originally centered on increasing the non-economic “pain and suffering” damages in medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 -- the lowest in the country -- to $1.1 million. Its author, Bob Pack, whose young children were killed by a driver under the influence of prescription drugs nearly 11 years ago, struggled to find a lawyer to represent him in a lawsuit against the “doctor-shopping” driver because of low potential damages that would have limited attorney fees. According to KQED, Pack said when he began authoring the initiative, medical experts advised him to add a doctor drug-testing provision.

Critics have called that addition an attempt to sweeten the appeal of a ballot measure about something else entirely. Under the proposition, doctors would be drug-tested in three instances: at random, within 24 hours of patients under their care suffering an adverse event, and when they are subjects of a possible substance abuse report. If it passes, California would be the only state requiring random drug tests, the East Bay Express pointed out.

Major reform groups, including California’s Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union, have come out against the measure because of the doctor drug-testing provision.

“Research has repeatedly failed to show that random, suspicionless drug testing prevents or reduces alcohol or other drug use,” the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement. “Drug testing does not reduce the harms of drugs, but often creates incentives to use riskier substances in counterproductive ways.”

According to KQED, a review of 23 studies in an upcoming issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention supports the Drug Policy Alliance's stance, concluding that “the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”

The Drug Policy Alliance notes that testing for marijuana -- a drug that shows up in tests weeks after use -- does not differentiate between that “consumed over a previous weekend and that consumed before seeing a patient.”

Additionally, the ACLU has called it a violation of doctors’ privacy.

Drug abuse among doctors is not well-documented. The East Bay Express, citing California Medical Board records, says 15 percent of the 62 doctors who had their licenses revoked from 2003 to 2013 lost them due to alcohol or drug abuse.

The proposition appears unlikely to pass. A poll conducted by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times found that 50 percent of voters oppose it, and 39 percent support it. The Yes On Prop 46 campaign has argued that the results were based partly on one misleading question. Every major newspaper in the state has come out against Prop 46, from the conservative-leaning Orange County Register to the liberal LA Times, according to Mother Jones.

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