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Are Drugs Abused More by the Middle Class and Rich?: Forced Tests Show Drug Use Among Welfare Recipients is Extremely Low Compared to the General Population

Drug testing in Tennessee, Main, Utah, and Florida finds drug use among people receiving government assistance is 2% or lower — A rate that's much lower than the general population.

Photo by Kaushik Narasimhan.
Photo by Kaushik Narasimhan.
By Bryce Covert
In July, Tennessee began a drug testing program for applicants to the state’s welfare program. Since then, just one person has tested positive out of more than 800.

Applicants have to answer three questions about drug use to get benefits, and if they answer yes to any of them, they get referred to urine testing. If the result is positive, they have to complete a treatment plan and then take another test. If the second comes back positive, they get cut off from benefits for six months. Those who refuse to take a drug test in the first place can’t get benefits.

In the month since it began, six people submitted to a drug test and just one tested positive out of the 812 people who applied. Four were turned down for benefits because they refused to participate in drug screening. That means a positive rate of 0.12 percent for those who took part in the screening. That compares to the 8 percent of state residents generally who use illegal drugs. Despite stereotypes that the poor people who need welfare assistance use drugs at a high rate, other states have had similar results.

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