Drug Testing Welfare Recipients—Cost Effective or a Waste of Money?

If you are paying taxes, are you willing to have your money used to support someone’s drug habit?

The answer for many is a resounding “No”.  Yet there are others who believe that using drug testing as a prerequisite for receiving welfare is a major infringement on the “rights” of the potential recipient. Those with the latter view are delighted with a graphic that indicates drug testing in Florida has been a spectacular failure in term of its cost to benefit.  If Facebook contained a “like so much I am turning summersaults because I am right” button rather than a simply “like” button, these folks would be wearing out that button in their haste to share the good news.

drug test

Thanks to The Pragmatic Progressive Page for this image.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/27/drug-testing-welfare-_n_983235.html


Did Florida really spend $178 million to save $60,000, thereby proving that drug testing of potential welfare recipients is not cost effective?  From the information presented, 2% of the applicants failed the drug test. Each of the numbers given in the graphic appears to be either at least somewhat in error or subject to challenge, but for current purposes we will assume them to be correct. We will first challenge the interpretation and the logic. The numbers, which nevertheless have some merit, will be challenged in a subsequent article.

The Florida drug tests were mandated by state law and were well publicized. What the results actually show is that, EVEN KNOWING IN ADVANCE THAT THEY WILL BE TESTED, 2% of those tested failed the test. So 2% of the drug users guessed incorrectly in terms of how long their drug usage could still be detected in their urine.  Insofar as a urine test is concerned, virtually every drug has been flushed from the system in no more than 90 days. A ninety day clearing time was apparently too long to wait for 2% of those anxious to receive welfare.  To truly determine the drug-related abuse of potential welfare recipients, the test of choice would be on hair samples; hair samples would contain drug residues from drug use for at least during the preceding year. If we were to assume that drug use amongst potential welfare recipients approximated that of the admitted use by the general population, the number of persons eliminated from eligibility by hair samples would have been closer to 14%.  My suspicion is that the Florida urine tests have proven to be a poor screening tool rather than that they have proven welfare applicants to be remarkably lower in their drug consumption than the general public.

Although I personally favor drug testing and join those who have no desire to pay for someone’s drug habit, the Florida results can be useful for several reasons.  In terms of economic efficiency, they may demonstrate that the Florida model may not be the best model. Hair analysis would dramatically improve the screening results;  if detecting drug usage is the objective, why not require hair samples and actually determine that usage? To the extent that testing is expensive, is it really too much to ask that the $30.00 cost of the test (hair samples could be slightly more) be borne by the welfare recipient?  That would prevent screening costs from being an additional burden to the state. Drug testing of potential welfare recipients is being vigorously challenged. http://pathologyblawg.com/pathology-news/appellate-court-upholds-injunction-urine-drug-tests-florida-welfare-recipients/ .  Perhaps the courts will remember that drug testing is not considered to be a violation of individual rights for those obtaining and keeping employment.

Testing controversy aside, are we being presented with a false choice if the only option is to simply deny service?  While remaining unwilling to support someone’s drug habit, shouldn’t we remain willing to help those who can be helped? Why couldn’t/shouldn’t these tests actually be used to identify the people who could benefit from rehabilitation? Rather than simply deny any and all welfare, why not consider conditional welfare with continued eligibility based upon close monitoring and subsequent drug rehabilitation? Early intervention could be very cost effective; if it were to minimize future costs to society, especially to the children who suffer the most from parents on drugs, testing could ultimately benefit people on both sides of the mandatory testing issue as well as those being tested. This new cost to benefit ratio would be quite hard to calculate. We will disregard any such potential benefits when we challenge the math on the above graphic in a subsequent article.


***Gary A. Howie MSc, PhD*** is a business owner/rancher and a Life & Liberty News contributor


4 comments for “Drug Testing Welfare Recipients—Cost Effective or a Waste of Money?

  1. Kana
    June 7, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    So just noticing, 2% of people tested failed the test, saving the state $60,000 in benefits. With a bit of math we can determine that, if 14% of potential welfare recipients were actually doing drugs (as you estimated), the state would have spent $178 million in order to save $420,000. So unless you can explain to me how $420,000 is more than $178 million, your attempt at reframing the data falls flat on its face.

    In fact, if 100% of people had failed the test, it would have saved the state a whopping total of $3 million dollars. So really, Florida spent $178 million on a drug testing program, when the most that the state could have possibly saved was approximately $3 million dollars. It would have been smarter for them to say “Who cares if people on welfare are doing drugs?” Multiply the average dollar amount of welfare payments by 50x, and then go tell the voters how they just saved $28 million of taxpayer money.

  2. Todd
    September 17, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Do you not realize that when you say “2% of drug users,” you are assuming that all welfare recipients are drug users? LOL

  3. Barbara
    May 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Just because you test positive for drugs doesn’t mean a damn thing. More people take RX drugs and use alcohol than do elicit drugs, but these don’t show up on your stupid drug tests. So maybe their friend gives them some pot. BFD. It’s not any worse than being drugged out on Kentucky Whiskey or taking anti-depressants. Those are actually worse. And if we’re all about stopping govt from interfering into our lives, how is this good?

  4. Bill Dithmer
    March 15, 2013 at 8:55 am

    “If you are paying taxes, are you willing to have your money used to support someone’s drug habit?”

    Good question. I would guess that if you are going to say that there is a significant amount of drug use going on in general society then the answer would be maybe. But you need to be very careful what you are wishing for because it could have unintended circumstances. In your article you talk only about welfare recipients, but there are many more that have a direct responsibility in our daily lives that are far more important then those on welfare. Here is a partial list.
    The president
    The supreme court
    Our border guards
    Dea agents
    Local cops states attorneys, public defenders
    Defense contractors
    Any judge that makes decisions that effect the rest of us
    Any person involved in education of any kind
    Any non profit that gets money from US and all who work there

    In short anyone that receives money from the government of any kind.

    Lets not stop there lets test for the other drugs to. Alcohol, script drugs, the most dangerous drug problem in this country today. Who wants a drunk judge presiding over a case?

    While we are at it lets take the amount of the cost of each test out of those peoples paychecks. Do you really think anything like that would ever fly. Could you pass that test every hour of every day? If you drink my guess would be no. How about a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol?

    Now you don’t like the way the test is administered. Don’t like urine test because it doesn’t go back far enough. Ok lets use hair. The results would be the same if you test everyone that I mentioned above.

    Study after study have come to the same conclusion. The rate of drug use is the same no mater who the person is or what their circumstances are, rich, poor, important politician, or bum on the street.

    Now there are problems with all test, even with hair.”The darker and coarser the hair the more drug that will be found in the hair.If two people consumed the same amount of drugs, the person with the darker and coarser hair will have more drug in their hair than the lighter haired person when tested. This raises issues of possible racial bias in substance tests with hair samples.”

    This raises a question. Did you already know this in advance, and you turned a blind eye to the results, or did your education fail you. Either way it doesn’t look very good.

    One way or another every person gets money from the government. Unless you want someone looking real close into your habits maybe you should let this drop.

    I guess I don’t have a problem with testing if you don’t. But I want everyone that gets money from US to go through the same hoops. After all if you are on welfare you are getting way less then someone that is a defense contractor. Or a farmer. Nuff Said

    The Blindman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *