Barry Saunders

Saunders: Drug testing welfare recipients is a waste of money

Now it can be told!

Since the N.C. legislature has started drug-testing welfare recipients who give off the stench of drug use – or, more accurately, who answer affirmatively on a questionnaire or have a drug conviction – I can tell you about the time I saw one of those deadbeats offering her EBT card for drugs.

Girlfriend had the nerve to do it right out in the open, too.

It was in the Kmart on Avondale Drive in Durham, and the frantic woman – she could’ve been a well-preserved 75 or a poorly preserved 50 – was trying to get filled what appeared to be a very necessary prescription.

She didn’t have enough money, so the pharmacist politely told her we can’t fill this without some moolah.

The woman searched through her pocketbook and pulled out and offered her EBT card. “Ma’am,” the pharmacist said, “that’s just for food.”

The woman resignedly stepped out of line and turned to walk away when the pharmacist called her back and told her to wait over there.

The pharmacist went to the back and returned with some medicine she hurriedly handed to the woman who, if the store still existed, would still be there thanking her.

I’d wanted to write about the pharmacist’s kindness when it happened and for years afterward, but was afraid of getting her in trouble: I know there’s got to be some kind of regulation against just giving somebody medicine for free.

There should, also, be some kind of regulation against letting somebody die simply because they don’t have enough money for their meds.

Results for the drug-testing program in North Carolina are too new to tell if many aid recipients are taking flights without benefit of a plane ticket, but they need only look to other states to find out that spending money on testing is likely to be a waste of money.

In Tennessee, 37 of 16,017 people screened tested positive.

Legislators, of course, know that, but testing for drugs is a way of giving a wink and a nod to their constituents who believe that all of the state’s – no, the country’s – problems result from lazy welfare recipients living on the dole.

A widely held sentiment, one expressed after an N&O story this week about the drug-testing, was this one: “I am tired of working to get money for those who are getting government $ that are drug users.”

To Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU, the results from the first month of the testing program “prove that it was mean-spirited and a waste of time. We opposed it in 2013” – when it was first proposed – “and the information coming out now demonstrates that this is an example of government over-reach.

“They are solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” Preston said.

Her most salient point, though, was this: If the state were really interested in solving the problem of drug abuse, she said, “it wouldn’t be forcing people who need help off assistance” but would instead be steering them toward treatment.


Wouldn’t the money we’re spending to try to kick people off assistance be better spent trying to help them kick whatever drug habit they may have, to help them become contributing members of society?

Tennessee does that: 25 of the 37 people who tested positive during the first six months were referred to a drug-treatment program.

In North Carolina, a positive test means you’re disqualified for cash benefits, but you can be referred for treatment.

Riddle me this, Batman: What good is treatment if you’re starving?

There is no place for sympathy in today’s politics, though, and legislators realize that blaming society’s woes on drug-addled welfare queens is like tossing red meat to those of their constituents consumed by the fear that somewhere, somebody’s getting something for nothing.

Speaking of meat, here’s what the late philosopher Curtis Mayfield wrote in his song “Future Shock”:

“The price of the meat

is higher than the dope in the street.

Is it any wonder

We go with nothing to eat?”

Translated, if you were sleeping under a bridge, using a cinder block for a pillow, wouldn’t you want to escape reality by taking a toke or two, too?

Of course the fact that there’s little evidence that people receiving welfare assistance are drugging out is irrelevant.