Tennessee's Welfare Drug Testing Program Was a Complete Failure

February 9th 2016

About a year and a half ago, Tennessee launched a drug testing program for welfare recipients, a controversial system aimed at curbing drug use for those who apply for public benefits. Of the 39,121 applicants included in the program, however, only 65 people tested positive for illegal drugs, raising questions about the efficacy of the law.

drug testFlickr/Micah Baldwin - flickr.com

In addition to the 65 applicants who tested positive, 116 people lost their public benefits after refusing to be screened and 82 lost theirs because they discontinued the application process at some point between the time they were required to submit a three-item questionnaire and completing the application. All in all, only 0.2 percent of welfare applicants tested positive.

Critics of the drug screening program argue that the state discriminates against poor people because other groups that receive financial assistance — college students, veterans, and farmers, for example — are not required to submit to drug tests to maintain their public benefits. In general, drug testing tends to discriminate against marijuana users because the substance stays in your system longer than harder drugs such as heroin and meth.

"We support the need to combat drug addiction," Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, told USA Today. "But if the state truly wants to combat addiction, they should use their resources to fund drug treatment programs rather than blocking access to public benefit applicants, because we're talking about providing for families."

Twelve states, including Tennessee, currently mandate drug testing for welfare recipients. ATTN: has previously reported on how similar programs in Maine and Arizona have come under fire for producing limited results while costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. To date, Tennessee has spent $23,592 to administer the program — the majority of which has been spent on the drug tests themselves.

There are a lot of questions about whether drug testing is effective. Check out this ATTN: video about it.

RELATED: Here's What Happened When Maine Drug Tested People on Welfare

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