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Caution Urged in Drug Testing Program

September 11, 1986

The city of South Pasadena is considering implementing a drug testing program for new employees. This is an arena that must be entered with caution.

There is no question the nation is involved in a massive war on drugs and substance abuse. The President and Mrs. Reagan are at the vanguard. Emotions are running high . . . reaction is swift.

Questions are being raised. Top federal officials are saying they will not endorse massive testing until they're satisfied that people's rights will be protected. There are questions about legalities and constitutional complications. Issues involving the right to privacy and self-incrimination are being raised.

A leading Republican senator announced that he would only support drug testing where the worker deals in public safety and with the lives of others.

Last week, our own state Legislature shelved a measure that would have required all 120 legislators to be tested for drugs. It was called demeaning and an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. One member said the legislators would reconsider such a measure in a few months after other ways to combat drug abuse in the workplace have been scrutinized.

Another assemblyman noted that lawmakers could be hurt by false test reports that incorrectly show drug use. Indeed, two reports were recently issued stating that ingestion of poppy seeds or Inca tea can cause test results that indicate that a person is using opiate drugs such as morphine or codeine.

Medical experts also told our legislators that only a few laboratories are able to perform drug screenings and confirmation tests.

The city of Glendale recently passed a law requiring drug testing of all new employees and those seeking promotions. Glendale has 1,432 full-time employees. Feedback from its program should be available within a few months.

The city of South Pasadena has 118 full-time employees. The majority have been on the payroll for at least five years. If a major substance abuse problem existed, it most likely would have been detected by co-workers or managers.

An ordinance requiring mandatory or random testing should be approached with caution. The issue is highly charged and delicate. The crusade to stamp out substance abuse is real and critical, but the rights of the individual must also measure in the balance.

EVELYN FIERRO PETERSON

South Pasadena

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