WICHITA, Kansas – A drug abuse assessment form may become one of the factors that determines which welfare recipients will have to take a drug test to receive benefits.

The Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, or SASSI, has been used for years by the Department of Children and Families to assess whether people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits. Until now, it had mostly been used to screen people who need treatment.

But starting in July, it could be one of the deciding factors in who will have to submit a drug test to continue receiving welfare benefits, raising concerns from legal experts.

“How many constitutional rights might a person be required to give up in order to feed her or his family?” KSN legal expert Dan Monnat said.

The assessment is a two-sided piece of paper that asks a variety of questions. Many of them are true or false questions, but it also asks about the reasons a person drinks or does drugs and the effects alcohol and drugs have on the person.

“Part of that is looking at underlying beliefs and attitudes that might be related to substance abuse disorders, and then there’s the overt, yes this person is doing something that is directly related to substance abuse disorder,” Chenoa Simmons-Daniels, a drug counselor at Higher Ground in downtown Wichita, said.

Simmons-Daniels and others use the SASSI assessment to help identify whether a client has a problem.

“No tool is perfect, so we definitely would hope that it not just be, you know, you walk into an office, do the SASSI, and that just determines your future,” Meredith Reuter, another drug counselor, added. “We would hope there would also be interaction with someone skilled and knowledgeable in substance abuse.”

When state lawmakers approved the program last year, they wrote into the law that people with established “reasonable suspicion” of drug abuse would be the ones subject to drug screening. Whether the screening establishes that is up for debate, Monnat said.

“The question is, will it be determined based upon a psychological test for substance abuse or is that itself a search requiring the predicate of reasonable suspicion?” he said.

Counselors like Reuter vouched for the assessment’s accuracy.

“We have had people take the SASSI where their results probably came out similar to what a substance abuser’s would look like, but for various reasons, there were other things that impacted the outcome of the test,” Reuter said. “So I would say it’s an accurate representation of a person, but there’s definitely other things that need to be taken into consideration.”

Although the process has not been fully determined, for those that have to test, if they test positive, benefits would likely be suspended until the person completes a treatment program.

See video at KSN

KSNW TV – by Felix Rodrigues-Lima