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Drug tests for people on welfare?

By Scott Tibbs, February 27, 2013

The Indiana legislature is considering drug tests for people on welfare - a populist proposal that may sound good on the surface, but is more complicated than it appears. Obviously, we do not want to subsidize drug use, and limited state funds need to go where they will do the most good, but there are other factors to consider.

First, while someone makes a deliberate choice to start taking drugs, once a person is addicted he or she needs help getting away from drug use - there are physical problems that come with addiction that cannot be overcome with simple willpower. Second, do we really want to deny assistance to the children of a drug addict, for something that is not their fault? Do we want to victimize them twice?

That is why I do not believe this legislation is a good idea.

Denying assistance to drug addicts is not the answer - offering treatment for their addiction is. If our goal is to move people off welfare into the workforce and make them productive taxpaying citizens (and keep them out of prisons, which is really expensive) the best option is to help addicts beat their addiction and stabilize their lives.

What this requires is a change in our orientation to illegal drug use. Drug addiction needs to be treated more like a public health problem and less like a criminal problem - and we certainly should not be treating illegal drug use like a "war" complete with paramilitary SWAT teams knocking down people's doors in the middle of the night.

Our "War on Drugs" has led to tragic consequences and the frightening militarization of law enforcement.

In sum, a "good citizen" defended his property from what he thought were criminals in a manner consistent with Florida law. He did nothing illegal. And the police officers who trespassed on his property, then attempted to sell drugs on his property, then killed him for attempting to defend his property, not only broke no laws, but their actions were also consistent with sheriff's department policy. Finally, those policies, the ones that caused all of this to happen... were not going to change.

Source: HuffingtonPost.com

Clearly, a different approach is needed.

One of the common populist defenses of the drug tests is "I have to take a drug test for my job, so why should people on welfare be treated differently?" I believe I addressed the problems with drug tests above, but the logical flaws in this argument should be addressed.

First, government assistance and employment are not the same thing. Employers drug test because they need to know their employees will be reliable and because they do not want to be liable in case an employee using drugs causes an accident that harms someone. Government assistance does not carry the same issues.

Second, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" might be a popular argument, it's a poor basis for public policy when there are other factors to consider - especially when at-risk children are considered.