Since it’s a well-documented anecdotal fact that most welfare recipients are drug dealers who abuse the system so they can buy gold teeth and new rims without having to get a real job, it’s fairly common to hear people (and by “people,” I mean “morons”) suggesting that we could save a lot of tax money if we’d just ignore that pesky Fourth Amendment and drug test people who receive government assistance. If the test comes back positive, we can save money by cutting them off and letting their kids starve. That’ll learn ‘em!
Not surprisingly, Florida--consistent winner of the “State Our Nation Is Most Embarrassed By” award--had instituted just such a policy. The drug testing started earlier this year and the state predicts that the program will cost around $178 million annually. The result? A whopping 2% of the tests have been positive and another 2% didn’t complete the application process “for unspecified reasons” (no doubt they got trapped under a mountain of gold chains and car stereo equipment). According to the Tampa Tribune’s Jenée Desmond-Harris, the state will save somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,800-$60,000 per year on rejected applicants.
Keep in mind that drug testing only shows whether someone has taken drugs in some specified period of time (which varies depending on the drug being tested for). It does not differentiate between someone who took drugs once (possibly weeks before they found themselves in need of government assistance) and habitual users. It also doesn’t reveal whether the person being tested uses alcohol, so those who abuse alcohol (and in all likelihood those who abuse legal drugs that have been prescribed to them by a doctor) will get a pass. Furthermore, testing doesn’t guarantee that a single drug dealer is caught (especially if he follows NWA’s advice that dealers should abstain from the drug in which they trade).
Another problem with drug tests is the fact that they aren’t 100% accurate. According to Dr. Dwight Smith of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Black Hills, South Dakota, 5%-10% of positive drug test results are false positives (positive results even though the test subject has not taken any drugs). The rate of false negatives (negative results when the person being tested has taken drugs) is even higher, at 10%-15%. And those are averages. Tests for specific drugs tend to be more accurate, while those that attempt to test for a broad spectrum of drugs (like the ones Florida is administering) are generally less accurate.
If all the percentages and numbers make it hard to get a clear picture of exactly how pointless Florida’s drug testing program is, you’re in luck, because I have a tortured analogy! Let’s say that I’ve just invented a new electric border fence that periodically scans for people trying to cross it. Even better, it can use cutting edge SCIENCE! to determine whether the person trying to cross it is an illegal immigrant. If so, the fence emits a deadly electric shock. Of course, it does have a few bugs. Here are its performance specs:
- In an average day, the fence scans roughly 2,000 times.
- Of those 2,000 scans, 1720 of them happen when there is nobody trying to cross the fence (at a cost of about $30 a pop).
- 240 times a day there will be illegals crossing the fence, but the scanners will somehow fail to pick them up.
- Each day, 40 illegal immigrants will see the fence and decide to stay in Mexico.
- 37 times a day, the scanners will electrocute an illegal immigrant who is trying to TAKE OUR JOBS!
- Three times a day, the illegal alien detection technology fails and and electrocutes American citizen (probably an adorable child) standing near the fence.
Update: Since writing this article, I've discovered that one of the companies doing the drug testing in Florida, Solantic, was co-founded by...wait for it...Florida Governor Rick Scott. His holdings in the company were transferred to his wife shortly before he took office. So there's absolutely no conflict of interest here or anything like that.