Arizona Welfare Drug Testing Proves Colossal Waste of Money

By Zachary Siegel 07/23/15

Once again, a Republican state defends a failed policy that does nothing put plow taxpayer money into drug testing companies.

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New statistics reveal that drug testing welfare recipients in order for them to receive their checks is a gigantic waste of taxpayer money. The facts also debunk tired stereotypes about addiction and the lower socioeconomic strata.

From 2009-2015, the state of Arizona screened some 142,000 welfare recipients for drugs and found only three positive tests, according to a report from

GOP state Rep. John Kavanagh justified the failed policy to the Arizona Republic in 2009, “We don't want people who are abusing drugs to be on welfare because that means that the taxpayers are subsidizing and facilitating illegal drug use."

Looking closely at Arizona’s experiment reveals the above notion is flawed. Mainly, that by denying welfare recipients their check, the drug testing policy wastes taxpayer dollars and causes further unquantifiable amounts of stigma for the poor who had to urinate in cups in order to receive state benefits.

Even in the face of facts and figures, state Rep. Kavanagh, an early supporter of this policy, refuses to own a mistake when it’s made. Last March, he said, "You can look at it two ways: If you want to be a pessimist, you say it's failed. If you want to be an optimist, it's a strong deterrent and they're not using drugs ... I don't know which is true."

With soaring state debts, many are abandoning the failed policy of drug testing of marginalized citizens. Yet Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) remains a staunch supporter of welfare drug testing. His recent legislation actually expands welfare drug testing policies.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.