Most Americans consider drug testing to be a no-brainer under a variety of circumstances. Legislation requiring some form of drug testing or screening for welfare recipients has been proposed in at least 29 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Measures have passed in eight states. When you choose public assistance as and are the beneficiary of Americans hard earned tax dollars as a source of income, the anecdote, what is good for the goose is good for the gander applies. Anyone receiving any form of public assistance should be required to take a drug test and face the same restrictions and obligations as anyone who is working.
States have proposed drug testing of applicants and recipients of public welfare benefits since federal welfare reform in 1996. Federal permit drug testing as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. In recent years, many states have proposed some form of drug testing or screening for applicants. In 2009, over 20 states proposed legislation that would require drug testing as a condition of eligibility for public assistance programs. In 2010 at least 12 states had similar proposals. The proposals gained momentum beginning in the 2011 session. Three states passed legislation in 2011, four states enacted laws in 2012, and one state has passed legislation in 2013, bringing the total number of states to eight.
This isn’t a one sided debate against low income families, there is even a call for politicians to “pee in a cup”. According to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, 64 percent of Americans favor requiring welfare recipients to submit to random drug testing — a measure pushed by Republican lawmakers in recent years — while 18 percent oppose it. But an even stronger majority said they’re in favor of random drug testing for members of Congress, by a 78 percent to 7 percent margin. Sixty-two percent said they “strongly” favor drug testing for congressional lawmakers, compared to only 51 percent who said the same of welfare recipients. Seventy-two percent of Americans said they support random drug testing for members of the military, and 87 percent supported it for airline pilots. Seventy-one percent said they support random drug testing for professional athletes. Eighty-six percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents said they want drug testing for members of Congress.
The proposals have a gauntlet of difficultly in the form of drug testing being unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The ACLU is leading the fight against these bills that are being introduced. The ACLU argument is based on the validity of data showing that people who receive public assistance use drugs at a higher rate. This kind of drug testing is unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, and fiscally irresponsible and one more way the “war on drugs” is an unfair war on America’s most vulnerable populations.
Harold Pollack states in his article, there is “a surprising number of states are pondering one extremely bad idea: suspicion-less, screening of welfare recipients for illicit drug use”. Using a study built around information from one state, he makes the claim “Welfare recipients were slightly more likely than the comparison-group of other low-income single women to report illicit substance use and accompanying disorders. The comparisons showed the differences were rarely statistically significant.
Pollack also goes on to state: “However one runs the numbers, illicit drug use disorders are not common among welfare recipients”. Another factor in his study suggests there are other physical and mental health problems which are far more prevalent.
Pollack’s submission while in depth and not insignificant, only takes in account women and children. Through personal experience and that of others, I know that men need to be included in the numbers as well. The exclusion of men: (baby’s daddy, boyfriend, husband, friend with benefits or ‘roommate’) as a part of the ‘family’ exponentially alters the overall numbers, more importantly the use of drugs goes up. Nor does it show the truly what goes on, women selling their food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar for the cash, or the oldest of traditions (sex) for drugs. This less direct method can’t be accounted for. In today’s day and age, people have also figured out (for the most) part how to ‘play’ the system, (as shown by evidence below). Whether they have learned how fast the drugs leave their system or outright admit drug use and get everything handed to them. Take Oregon for example, if you have a heroin addiction and a child: your chances of getting your treatment for free, an apartment for less than one hundred dollars a month, TANF, full medical (not just for treatment), food stamps and exempted from the jobs program because of drug addiction moves you to the head of the list.
Research from the (wardrugfacts), data taken from Jan-Jun 2012 shows that marijuana continues to be the most commonly detected drug, data from urine drug tests show that marijuana positives in the U.S. general workforce are nearly twice that of amphetamines. The drugs most commonly job applicants are tested for are called the “Federal 5”.
- Amphetamines (amphetamine, methamphetamine)
• Cocaine metabolites
• Marijuana metabolites
• Opiate metabolites (codeine, morphine)
• Phencyclidine (PCP)
The focus of workplace drug testing analysis is a drug’s metabolite compound. A metabolite is defined as, “the compound produced when the body processes a particular drug.” Further hindering the implementation of drug testing are the questions; what the tests can and cannot show? Urine screens cannot distinguish between illicit and legitimate use of certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Drug tests cannot measure frequency of use, nor do they indicate the severity of impairment or whether an individual has a substance abuse problem that requires treatment. Urine tests, which are the least expensive and most frequently used form of drug test, can generally detect marijuana use within the past week; cocaine, heroin and other “hard” drugs used within the past two days. Improper testing procedures and mishandling of samples can also produce inaccurate results.”
In another study of high tech industries, researchers found that “drug testing programs do not succeed in improving productivity. Surprisingly, companies adopting drug testing programs are found to exhibit lower levels of productivity than their counterparts that do not. The regression coefficients representing potential effects of drug testing programs on productivity are both negative and significant. Both pre-employment and random testing of workers, found to be associated with lower levels of productivity.”
The absence of empirical (national) data studying the issue of welfare recipients being drug tested hasn’t changed my opinion of what is good for the goose is good for the gander and as some polls show, most Americans tend to agree. Although, to be fair; the exact drugs, means of testing and who should be tested under ‘reasonable suspicion’, is a big hurdle under the Fourth Amendment. States don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle that kind of extra burden to an already overloaded system. Lower income families don’t have the funds to cover their own cost of living, let alone a drug test. The labs need a standard certification process. We can see that most of the Federal 5 drugs are all known to clear the body after a short time. Productivity ratings for some high tech companies show that drug testing did not improve productivity, and if anything, actually lowered productivity levels. If this study were used by itself, most companies would probably opt for not drug testing at all. Before the implementation of any long term effective drug testing, all of these things need to be fixed. Is the effect of testing parents going to decrease the well being of the children? No! No matter what statistic set that you choose to use for your end purposes. Testing public assistance recipients for illicit drugs is not going to hurt anymore than a mom selling her food stamps or body for drugs. Not changing the status quo, at best things remain the same. However, there is the very real possibility that it can get even worse. The child still goes hungry or becomes involved in some form of domestic abuse due to the drug use.