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Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

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Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

Testing welfare recipients for drug use was a hot topic over the last few months. I first learned about the controversy in February, when I happened upon an article titled “Growing Support for Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients.”graphic with words government welfare.jpg

The article said Mitt Romney supported the idea and that support was growing among conservatives. This group believes that drug addicts misuse the money and thus the funds should go elsewhere.  They want those on welfare to show they’re drug- and alcohol-free and looking for work. Others say that testing assumes welfare recipients are drug users and the test is an invasion of privacy for people who need help. However, the article says that research has shown that “welfare recipients are no more likely than the general population to abuse drugs.” Currently, 23 states are proposing drug testing legislation. Over the years, many of these proposals have been struck down time and again by the courts.

One of the people who commented on another article on the same subject supported the idea of drug testing, comparing entering the welfare program to getting a new job where you would be drug tested. 

Another person had this thought:

If you believe that a welfare check is large enough to support a drug addiction (AND a household), I’m happy to say that you are blissfully unaware of the cost of such an addiction! Anyone who is addicted is scamming the system, or committing crime already. Anyone who isn’t addicted should have no problem staying clean to get that check.

A third person had this to say:

We’ll just send them all over to your house for dinner. How many children will suffer less because their welfare parent(s) have cleaned up, knowing they’ll be homeless if they don’t?

It’s a heated debate, to be sure. One reporter found that in Florida, however, a law “requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data.” If you read enough of the articles available, you’ll find enough information about what’s going on around the country to write a term paper on this subject. Here’s NPR’s take

Maybe you don’t often think of people on welfare in the same breath as those in private treatment for substance abuse. But addiction does not discriminate, and wealthy people have ended up destitute because of a drug problem. Often, in these cases, people can only enter private treatment because their family picks up the bill. 

I remember reading once about one mother who put the charges for her child’s treatment on her credit card. Heaven knows how long she’ll be paying that off. I also know one father who said he wouldn’t sacrifice his retirement fund to pay for treatment, that it’ll be up to his son to take full responsibility for getting clean if he gets involved with drugs.

All of which goes back to the thought that prevention is a lot less costly than treatment, in more ways than one.


Joan added:  Just today the LA Times reported on a very interesting study of homeless adults housed by L.A. County’s Project 50 which suggests providing permanent housing to vulnerable populations saves local governments money. Project 50 was controversial because it did not require people to get sober before they were housed. But advocates of the so-called housing-first approach say a permanent roof provides the stability chronically homeless people need to get their lives back on track.  The increase in costs for drug and alcohol abuse treatment was higher for the control group than for Project 50 participants. Non-participants were more likely to use lengthy residential programs than participants, who generally received less expensive out-patient services.  The Country saved money because Project 50 participants were no longer cycling in and out of hospital emergency rooms, shelters and jails, the report said.  Incarceration costs for program participants, for example, fell 28% in their first year in the program, compared to a 42% increase for non-participants. By the second year, the number of incarcerated participants dropped from 24 to 5.



  • Manya Helman MD Salem, Oregon

    Dear Malibu Beach Recovery Center,
    I read with interest the blog post on the subject of urine/saliva testing for drugs of abuse, with a normal test being a requirement for being a candidate for public support (food stamps, housing, welfare, etc). I am very much in support of this program. In the course of my work as the Medical Director at both of our city’s Methadone treatment clinic, and in my private practice utilizing suboxone as part of medication assisted treatment, I have formed the strong impression that public support serves only as more enabling, hurting the very people it is intended to help. I would recommend that if an applicant for public assistance has an abnormal urine, that they be offered referral and perhaps partial assistance toward treatment for addictive disease. It would be best if the public support for treatment started at 90% of the cost x 2 months, then 80% x 2 months, 70 % x 2 months, etc. It is truly good for patients to learn that public assistance is not to be taken for granted, and to start working as soon as possible. It does not seem to help our patients to have an open ended line of support because they tend to drag out the time to abstinence. Abstinence is key, because it is the stop to the damage to their body and brain. It is critical for the taxpayers to realize that we have inadvertently become enablers to many of our fellow citizens, and have allowed further damage to their brains and bodies from the disease.
    Best regards, Manya Helman MD Salem, Oregon

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