RALEIGH, N.C. — The initial results of a drug testing program for some public assistance applicants are finding little evidence of widespread drug use among the poor in North Carolina.
In 2013, state lawmakers approved a measure requiring testing for Work First, a cash assistance program for needy families. Under the terms of the law, applicants who raised flags on a screening test or who had a felony for drugs within the past three years must pass a drug test to be eligible for benefits.
The program was not implemented immediately by Gov. because state lawmakers appropriated no funds to pay for the testing.
After funding was allocated in the 2014 budget, the Department of Health and Human Services set up the program, contracting with Oregon-based Fortes Laboratories to handle the testing at a cost of $55 per sample. The urine test checks for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, opium and phencyclidine, or PCP.
According to state Division of Social Services director Wayne Black, testing began last August in all 100 counties.
According to data supplied by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, out of about 7,600 cases reviewed from August to December, about 150 met the criteria to require a drug test. Out of those 150, 70 failed to show up for their test appointments, and 21 applicants – about 14 percent of those referred – tested positive. Some applicants may have first missed an appointment, but later rebooked and then tested positive or negative, DHHS staff explained.
Even if all 70 who failed to show up would have tested positive, the total – 91 – represents about 1 percent of all reviewed Work First cases.
Sen. , R-Mitchell, suggested that many applicants who would have tested positive never got to the screening stage.
“Most people going in who’ve put in an application find out they need a drug test, (and) they’re simply not showing back up again,” Hise said.