EDITORIAL: A double-edged sword

by Nov 26, 2018OPINIONS





The EBCI tribal government recently announced the long-standing practice of random drug testing of tribal employees had been researched and found to be a violation of rights protected under the (federal) constitution. This determination, made by the Attorney General’s office, precipitated a change in tribal human resource policies to do random drug tests on employees holding “safety-sensitive” jobs only. Other positions would no longer be required to participate in random testing.

I would imagine this change will result in some budget savings. I have been told that each test costs about $35. So, there is that. If the determination is accurate, it will be a time saver for tribal employees who must take a break from production duties to sit or stand in line to get their hair clipped. Time is money, as the old saying goes.

As a tribal employee, I am happy not to have my day interrupted by a phone call or visit from my supervisor saying that I need to rearrange my schedule for the day to include a trip to the drug test barber. The announcement usually came when I was at my busiest, and it was necessarily last minute because it was the “surprise” nature of the random test, that gave it investigative value for our employer. I have been told many things over the years about drug use. I have heard estimated, uneducated guesses ranging from three years to six months as to how long certain drugs may remain in your system and be detected by a hair test. I have never really researched it, mostly because I have been fortunate not to have ever been a user of illegal drugs and rarely get prescribed pain meds. No, really. It is true.

This determination comes at a time when we are still, as a tribal community, trying to find our truths about the use of drugs among our people. I have always thought that the zero-tolerance rule within the tribal law when it comes to drug use was a little counter to our tribal position of mostly tolerance when it comes to substance abuse. At some point in our tribal history, the leadership felt that drug use was so unacceptable that testing positive for certain drugs was grounds for immediate and unequivocal termination from a tribal job. The policy remains today (policy, not law since the human resources policy is no longer codified). With all the focus we have recently placed on rehabilitation and opportunity for recovery, it seems almost hypocritical to have a no tolerance clause in our law/policy for first-time violations, particularly since we have relaxed the policy/law on drug testing.

We, as a Tribe, have taken a position that drug abuse is a sickness or disease. If so, why is it that we maintain a contradictory view of zero tolerance? I can’t think of another illness that will result in immediate termination if you have it even once.

We, as a Tribe, need to decide what we are going to do with the rising tide of drug abuse. We tend to focus our attention on opioid abuse, because it has moved to the front as the most abused, most aggressively addictive drug in the modern day. But there are many others. People will even buy cans of spray paint or air to attempt to get “high” on.

And there is a looming question about marijuana and related hemp products. States and tribes are allowing business development around medicinal and recreational use of marijuana products. Efforts are currently underway to pass laws facilitating the exploration of cannabis, in various forms, to be a cash crop for the Ttribe. This drug is an exception to the “war on drugs,” even though the Center for Disease Control still lists marijuana as a drug of concern. “About 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6”. The CDC stops short of calling cannabis gateway drugs and says that most people do not go on to harder drugs because of using marijuana. Three “side effects” of marijuana use include, according to the CDC, include being at higher risk of problems with attention, memory, and learning. There is much more on the subject at the website, https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana.

I am not saying be for or against anything, except maybe be pro-health and community safety. A double-edged sword cuts both ways. These are things that we, as a tribal community, must get right in our minds so that we may guide our leaders into making good, consistent law that will benefit the entire community. I know that is what our leaders want. I know it is what our community desperately needs.