Efforts to identify and prevent Oklahomans high on illegal drugs from receiving certain taxpayer-financed welfare benefits cost the state more than $82,700 in the first seven months after a new law took effect.
The net result was 83 adults — about 4.4 percent of those applying — were denied benefits.
Oklahoma's drug screening and testing program is more expensive — and arguably less reliable — than the one originally envisioned and proposed by then-state Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, back in Jan. 2012.
It all sounded so simple when the bill was introduced: Oklahoma adults seeking welfare assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would be required to take a drug test.
The goal was to save the state money, Liebmann stated at the time.
Liebmann's initial bill called for the welfare applicants to pay the costs of drug testing, but it was amended so that the state now pays those bills.
The proposed law encountered a roadblock when word spread that a federal judge in Florida had issued a temporary injunction months earlier blocking enforcement of a similar law there. The court's decision was based on Fourth Amendment concerns that requiring mandatory drug testing of all applicants represented an “unreasonable search” by the government without cause.
A federal appeals court upheld the injunction in February.
Rather than risk a similar costly lawsuit in Oklahoma, state senators amended the bill here so that not all TANF applicants are required to submit to a urinalysis or similar chemical drug test.
Instead, all Oklahoma applicants are required to go through a screening process called the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) where they are asked a series of indirect questions designed to detect whether they are likely illegal drug users.
Individuals identified as likely drug abusers can be required to go through an additional screening evaluation called the Addiction Severity Index and pass a urinalysis test before being approved for benefits.
The Addiction Severity Index evaluation is administered by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and is much lengthier and more intensive than the SASSI screening, said Mark Beutler, communications manager for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.