Drug testing fails the test

Added July 18th, 2013 by Melissa K. Smith | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Melissa K. Smith

Last week, Utah released preliminary data on their year-old drug testing policy for recipients of cash assistance. As Utah is my home state and as the Michigan Legislature is considering drug testing proposals, I was very interested in seeing the results.

Utah was one of the first states to implement a suspicion-based drug testing policy for cash assistance – one in which all applicants are required to be screened for substance abuse issues and then must take a drug test if the screening indicates an issue may exist. Here is how the numbers came out: 4,425 people were screened for drug use, 394 were then required to take a drug test and nine people ended up testing positive for drugs. That’s right, nine. The cost to the state of Utah to identify the 0.2% of those screened that ended up testing positive for drugs? $26,391

Oklahoma had a similar experience. In the first four months that they implemented their suspicion-based policy – about 1,300 people were screened, 340 of those were referred to drug testing and 29 people were denied benefits as a result of it all – 2%. The cost for the four months? $74,000

Of course, the results should not be surprising. In October 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services looked at drug testing programs or proposals in 12 different states and did not find a single one with a net savings. And let’s not forget Florida! Before they ended up in court, Florida lost more than $10,000 a month during the four months they did universal drug testing of cash assistance recipients and applicants – this included both their expenditures and any savings found in closing the cases of the few that tested positive for drug use.

Despite all of this evidence, some Michigan lawmakers are supporting a proposal that could make Michigan one of those states that spend a lot of money to prove that, despite the stereotypes, very, very few people who receive cash assistance use drugs. HB 4118, which will create a one-year pilot of a suspicion-based drug testing policy for cash assistance recipients and applicants is on the verge of becoming law – it passed the House in May and is on its way to the Senate floor.

Drug testing policies grow out of myths and legends, but again and again they are proven to be expensive and unnecessary. Michigan needs to be making smart policy decisions based on fact, not creating costly and ineffective programs targeted at only the poorest families in the state.

— Melissa K. Smith

One Response to “Drug testing fails the test”

  1. […] Put aside, for the moment, arguments that such drug testing is unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, and fiscally irrespons… […]

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