Urine Trouble: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Fails in N.C., Just Like Everywhere Else | News

Urine Trouble: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Fails in N.C., Just Like Everywhere Else


North Carolina’s drug testing of welfare recipients has started, and surprise, surprise: the early numbers show that, like in other states that are drug testing welfare recipients, it’s a complete waste of time and money.

The drug-testing provision for the Work First program, passed by the General Assembly in 2013 over Governor Pat McCrory’s veto, requires that beneficiaries who have a felony drug charge within the last three years or who are suspected of using drugs during a screening test are required to pass a drug test in order to keep receiving benefits.

WRAL reported that, from August (when the program started) to December, around 7,600 people were screened. Out of all of those cases, just 150 people were selected for testing. Out of the 80 people who showed up, just twenty-one people tested positive. As WRAL’s Laura Leslie notes, “Even if all 70 who failed to show up would have tested positive, the total—91—represents about 1 percent of all reviewed Work First cases.”

The Department of Health and Human Services told the INDY that the twenty-one people who tested positive represent 0.3 percent of all the cases that were screened. If you broaden the scope and count the 17,728 households that received some form of “ongoing assistance” in 2014–15, that number goes down to 0.1 percent of all Work First cases. If the intent of this rule was to root out abuse of the welfare system by drug users, it’s been a miserable failure.

For those who did test positive and had children, they were eligible for a reduced payment, from $272 to $236, a loss of $36 that goes toward the welfare of a child. After thirty days, the beneficiary is eligible to reapply for benefits, but has to cover the $55 testing fee.

Although the test examines urine for various drugs, the only one that usually stays in someone’s system for over a week is marijuana, a drug that has been legalized in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Washington, D.C., and is permissible for medical use in nineteen others. Cocaine, a more potent and expensive drug favored by the wealthy, stops showing up in urine tests after three days. 

“These numbers show once again that people seeking temporary assistance to support their families are no more likely to use drugs than the general public,” says ACLU of North Carolina’s communications director Mike Meno. “Laws that single out and stigmatize vulnerable people with invasive and constitutionally suspect drug tests are nothing more than a mean-spirited waste of taxpayer dollars.”

So far the program has cost the state $4,895. The DHSS told the INDY that there is no current projection for 2016 in place.

The explicit goal of this law was, as state Representative Dean Arp put it in 2013, to “end a bad practice of supporting drug abusers with the hard-earned money of law-abiding North Carolinians.” But as Governor McCrory said after vetoing it, “Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive for taxpayers and did little to actually help fight drug addiction.”

Looks like he was right. 

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