North Carolina's Welfare Drug Testing Program Is a Complete Failure

February 17th 2016

North Carolina's drug testing program for welfare recipients has been a subject of controversy since its implementation last year. Now the results from the program are in: The state has devoted a lot of resources to screen and drug test residents who receive public aid, and yet the program has largely failed to achieve its stated goals.

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Between August 3 and December 31, 2015, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services screened about 7,600 welfare applicants to the Work First Program, Vox reported. They ended up drug testing 150 people; only 21 tested positive for illicit substances. That's approximately 0.3 percent of welfare applicants to the program.

Thirteen states have similar programs, all aimed at curbing drug use among those who receive public aid. Civil rights advocates argue that such programs discriminate against people in poverty because other groups that receive public aid (e.g. students and veterans) are not required to submit to drug testing to maintain their benefits.

"Forcing people in need to pay up front for urine tests is not only cruel but will likely deter many low-income families from even applying for assistance," Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the ACLU of North Carolina said in a statement. "Why the legislature was so adamant about passing this bill is unclear, since all available evidence shows that public aid applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and similar programs in other states have been found to be unconstitutional and fiscally wasteful."

There's also an argument to be made that the welfare drug testing programs are ineffective given the negligible results. About 8 percent of the population in North Carolina uses illegal drugs, Vox reported, and the national average stands around 9.4 percent, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Even North Carolina's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, resisted the welfare drug testing law when it was being debated in the state legislature last August. In a statement, McCrory described the program as "a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion."

"This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse,” McCrory said. “Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive for taxpayers and did little to actually help fight drug addiction. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina.”

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The state Senate voted to override the governor's veto, however, and the controversial program went into effect.

RELATED: Tennessee's Welfare Drug Testing Program Was a Complete Failure

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