Utah Spent $26K to Ferret Out Welfare Drug Users, Found Nine

Last year, Utah joined the handful of states that have passed laws mandating drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits. To avoid constitutional challenges, the state created a screening process to come up with a reasonable suspicion that certain welfare applicants were using drugs.

But preliminary data reported by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that of 4,425 people screened for drug use after seeking aid, only 813 were deemed to be at high risk of drug use, only 394 were actually subjected to drug testing, and of those, only nine were denied benefits because they tested positive and five are undergoing treatment.

The state spent more than $26,000 to achieve these results. It spent more than $5,000 to administer the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) test to applicants and more than $20,000 to pay for drug testing. Those figures do not include staff costs to administer the SASSI test or the costs of drug treatment.

Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test.

The SASSI Institute claims its diagnostic test is 94% accurate at detecting people with a high probability of substance abuse, but the Utah numbers belie those claims. Of those assessed as likely drug or alcohol abusers by the test, only 1% actually tested positive for drugs. In the best case -- assuming that everyone who abandoned the aid application process or didn't show up for a drug test was actually using drugs -- the predictive value of the SASSI test was under 50%.

"It seems silly to drug test hundreds. It's not worth the money they're spending," Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger told the Tribune, adding that welfare workers could still screen clients for substance abuse the old-fashioned way -- by forging relationships with them.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director for Utah's Department of Workforce Services, wasn't ready to draw any conclusions.

"People can read the numbers and make their own conclusions," Landward said. "This was a policy decision made by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and our responsibility is to execute as best we can."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results isn't it? This theme of expenditures for drug testing is repeating itself all over the country. I believe it started here in Florida with our embarrassing Governor Rick Scott, spending our money to direct people to his drug testing labs and finding a similar result as stated above. Ours ended in the courts stopping the testing as unconstitutional. Now other states are attempting the same things but wording their laws differently but finding the same results. Drug War Hysteria is being uncovered with every one of these unconstitutional search and seizures by different States. Wake up People.. End this madness. Drug use and Drug abuse are 2 different things. Drug use is non of the Governments business. Abuse is a different matter. Testing lines the pockets of the wealthy with more taxpayer money and is the true reason behind these bills. 

Just say NO to any laws that trample your rights. You still have a right to privacy and protection against search and seizure. Is there anything more private than your bodily fluids. If the politicians want testing make sure and put them in the front of the line since they are 100% receiving taxpayer funds.

Do the math. $26000/9=$2889 a

Do the math. $26000/9=$2889 a year, $240 a month. Your telling me that these 9 people were getting less than $240 a month per family? Even if they were getting $250/month (I seriously doubt that little), taxpayers came out ahead just by these numbers.

The article also mentions "Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test."

So, you have potentially 163 that abandoned the process once they saw they wouldn't get anything anyways because of the drug tests.

I still see this as a great idea to weed out the people that are spending their money on drugs or alcohol instead of taking care of their own needs, such as food for their family.

Mo’ Money

Taking $250/month or more from a poor person to save the state money is shortsighted.

The nine alleged drug users will just have make their money some other way.  BTW, is your car and home locked?  Are your personal effects secure? 

One option for the Utah Nine, and anyone else not getting approved for relief, would be to sell lots of drugs.  This would make the cops happy.  The police could bust some more drug dealers and send them to prison at a housing cost to the state of say, maybe, $25,000/year each.  This cost threatens to offset any savings achieved by drug testing.

Then there’s the moral issue.  Doesn’t a poor person have the same natural rights as people with money to smoke a spliff now and then, or drink a beer?  It might not even be the guy’s own weed he’s smoking (it does get handed around a lot).  Yet because a person is poor, and therefore a pariah in the eyes of predatory capitalists, that person must suffer their poverty with no access to chemical relief now and then?

Of course, these vilifications of the poor are music to the ears of the typical racist, sadomoralist, authoritarian prick, and any such ghouls who gleefully and parasitically feed amongst members of the prison industrial complex.  Much of what Utah and other states do in this regard is politically motivated as well, going back to Ronald Reagan’s old mythical “welfare queen” analogy.  Gotta feed the political killing machine, somehow, and drug users are the penultimate scapegoat.

Your math is not quite

Your math is not quite right....the first failed drug test in a given year only means people are ineligible to receive benefits for 3 months. Then they can reapply and be tested (at taxpayer expense once again) and if the person passes that time, they can receive benefits again. So give them 3 months to figure out how to outsmart the drug screening, basically. If they test positive a second time within the same year, then they are ineligible for one year of benefits. So the cost of reapplying and retesting isn't factored in. And if all nine people in the article test clean in 3 months, then they are back on public assistance and it STILL cost $26k to keep them off assistance for three months--RIDICULOUS waste of public funds.

SASSI-3 Test Validity in Question

A quick MEDLINE search for the word "SASSI-3" (Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory -3) gave only 7 hits. One (also cited in the SASSI marketing literature) showed that this test was highly correlated for detecting drug dependency. Correlation for alcohol dependency hovered around 0.5... One study concluded: "No empirical evidence was found for the SASSI's claimed unique advantage in detecting substance use disorders through its indirect (subtle) scales to circumvent respondent denial or dishonesty." In other words, the test result can be manipulated by the test taker. So what is Utah paying for, exactly

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