Drug testing people who receive welfare is a common proposal made by those on the conservative side of the political spectrum. They seem to love to cling to the mostly false argument that recipients use their welfare money to buy drugs and that the government is subsidizing their addictions. And it turns out Australia's following along the same misguided path. .
The Australian government announced plans to randomly drug test welfare recipients starting this January. The government will select 5,000 people who receive welfare to undergo urine, saliva or hair tests looking for traces of meth, ecstasy, marijuana or heroin. Those who test positive for drugs for the first time will get 80 percent of their welfare money moved to a BasicsCard, which can only be used for food, rent, childcare and other essential services. After the second test, the recipient will be required to visit a medical professional to undergo addiction treatment.
While the Australian government claims this program is to help welfare recipients turn their lives around, most similar situations have proven to be largely failures. Despite the pre-conceived notion that many on welfare use drugs, it turns out a very few number of them test positive for drugs. New Zealand instituted a similar program, and only 22 percent of recipients tested positive for drugs. And when the state of Florida drug tested their recipients, only 2.6 percent came up positive.
It's also incredibly costly to run drug testing programs. The government foots the bill for all the tests, which can cost millions of dollars, something that is often at odds with conservative values. Considering very few people actually test positive for drugs, most of those millions is complete waste. And many of these testing programs are challenged through the legal system, meaning the government has to also spend millions of dollars defending its program in court.
There's ample evidence that programs like this do nothing to actually stop drug addiction. Studies have frequently shown that forcing people into mandatory treatment is highly unlikely to actually stop the behavior.
And this isn't even touching on the facts that some drugs, namely marijuana, can stay in your system for weeks. While users of harder drugs can have a clean test after a couple of days.
So Australia's about to implement a high costing program that's unlikely to produce any positive results. Those are some solid priorities.