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Michigan Welfare Drug Testing Program - What Went Wrong?

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The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services conducted a one-year pilot drug testing program between October 2015 and September 30, 2016. The program included drug testing welfare applicants or recipients in three counties. Those involved have described the program as an "utter failure". So, what went wrong? Here's our analysis. 

An article written by the Detroit News stated that the program did not “catch” a single welfare recipient using illegal drugs. By “catch” they mean identifying a drug abuser through clinical assessment or drug testing. Most of the news articles we found have been misleading readers. The media is assuming that all the participants in the pilot program underwent drug testing which resulted in a 0% positivity rate. If that is true, then this statistic would be out of the ordinary. We’ll have to wait for the State legislation to clarify on this in their official report. 

Michigan's History of Drug Testing Programs

This isn’t the first time Michigan has participated in a drug testing pilot program. In 1999, the state had a random drug-testing program. This program resulted in an 8% positivity rate. 8% is double the US national average according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ published three years later. The random program ended shortly when a judge ruled it to be unconstitutional. Herein lies our first concern with the Michigan Welfare drug testing program.

Michigan Law Prevents Random Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients

Selecting participants randomly is the number one deterrent against drug abuse. Why? Because it’s fair and unbiased. The random selection rate is not the important factor. To the participants, it’s the thought of being chosen at any given time. The potential of being selected is the deterrent. You could argue about how much random drug testing will cost the State but, they could scale the random selection rate up or down to fit within their budget. Unfortunately, a law change isn’t likely. But, there's still hope for improvements in other areas.   

Suspicion-Based Drug Testing Requires Proper Training

The Michigan law requires a 50-question screening for applicants about drug abuse. The results would alert a state health official to suspect if an applicant is using a controlled substance. If so, then the state official would need them to conduct a drug test. The questioning is a good start but, state officials need the training to recognize the physical signs and symptoms of drug abuse. These signs are much more recognizable than a survey. Officials should be interacting with applicants to recognize symptoms of drug abuse.  

The drug test positivity rate should not be the only factor in determining whether the Michigan pilot program was successful or not. An over-reliance on drug testing isn’t the best way to plan a drug-free program. Although, they can put more focus on training officials to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug abuse. They also need to provide drug abuse education and promote access to counseling and rehabilitation. This will add more value to their existing drug testing program. 

23690 Last modified on Friday, 05 January 2018
Hagen DeRouen

Co-founder & CEO at Screensoft. 10+ years of experience with employment screening program management and guidance. Certifications including FCRA basic, MRO assistant, and professional collector trainer.