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."

– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.



  1. dr. greensleeves on

    I can attest to the massive amount of money the state wastes on crap like this. The ironic thing is, Utah all but forces people onto welfare because of the pay scale statewide. Some of the lowest wages in the country. As well, Utah NEVER turns down a chance to take federal money like it’s going out of style. Utah is a mess. But that’s what you get when you fail to separate church and state. A mormon monopoly.

  2. gutrod on

    That should give welfare recipients a reason to get a job. American laws are heartless. No different in Canada where religious ideology dictates what is good or bad for us. I doubt these people are tested for alcohol in their blood. LoL.

  3. Anonymous on

    It’s the same reason kids can’t play full contact football at school. One kid gets hurt and it’s ruined for everyone. A few people take advantage of the Welfare system (which shouldn’t even be here in the first place) and it ruins it for anyone who had a legit reason to need it. ‘Merica

  4. Anonymous on

    I really don’t get how one has to “qualify” for needing help when one is totally destitute. How does drug use have any bearing? Seriously, being in real trouble and needing help shouldn’t be conditional…….then again such nonsense could only make sense in the Mormon state with Christian love – which is very conditional indeed. Think not? Just ask any gay man or lesbian how much Utah loves and respects the sinner – but the not the sin. Hypocrisy reigns supreme in some places it seems…….