Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stabbing through the shroud at welfare and drug usage

I recall a couple years back reading about the state of Florida's implementation of a plan requiring aspiring recipients of welfare cash assistance (TANF, specifically) to take and pass a drug test to become eligible for said benefits. If successful, the state reimburses the welfare recipients for the cost of the drug test. If they fail, benefits are withheld and the test-takers are on the hook for the cost of having it administered.

Media coverage insinuated that drug usage among welfare recipients was, contrary to Florida governor Rick Scott's claim that welfare recipients have higher rates of drug use than non-recipients do, quite low--perhaps lower than that of the broader population--as less than 3% of those who went ahead and had a test administered on themselves failed to pass it clean. The hole in this implication, of course, is that many of those who qualify for welfare but have recently used drugs aren't going to drop the cash to take a drug test they know they're going to fail. One could make the argument that the more surprising result is that 1 in 40 willingly paid to have a drug test administered on themselves for no reason. Maybe they thought the test would fail, or perhaps these are people on the bottom rungs of the societal ladder and are consequently not well known for high conscientiousness or foresight.

There's a little bankshot in Scott's plan, as it disincentivizes drug usage among the poor while simultaneously reducing the number of people who are eligible to receive benefits by putting another hurdle in their way.

Since then, I stumbled across the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, with free online access available through the SDA interface. Unfortunately, the closest the study gets to querying respondents on welfare recipiency is whether or not they (or their families, for minors) are eligible for Medicaid (20% of participants said they were, 80% said they were not--I suspect those potentially eligible but who've never actually used Medicaid are mostly unaware of their eligibility or unwilling to take advantage of it for whatever reason, so I'd guess we're doing more than just proxying for low income here), and that question can only be cross referenced with "have you ever used X?" inquiries, not "have you used X in the last month?" questions.

Thus the following attempt to get a feel for whether welfare recipients are more or less likely to use illicit drugs than non-recipients are is a pretty rough approximation, but we work with what we have. To give participants a chance to have used the various stuff if so inclined to do so, I excluded respondents under the age of 20.

The percentages who have ever smoked marijuana by whether they are eligible or ineligible for Medicaid:




Cocaine (powdered):








Negligible differences between those eligible for Medicaid and those ineligible when it comes to weed and powdered cocaine, higher rates of having used crack, heroin, and meth among the eligible, and higher rates among the ineligible when it comes to having ever tripped on acid.

Crack is a black drug and meth is a white trash drug. Powdered cocaine and heroin are a little, uh, classier, acid is for the college-aged children of the middle class and the affluent who are on existential missions to find themselves, and weed is something people from all walks of life have used sometime in their adolescent and early adult years.

Parenthetically, if I'm able to use the data at hand to validate some of the stereotypes I'm asserting in the body of a post, I better do so. The percentages of respondents, by race, who've ever smoked crack:


And used meth:


GSS variables used: NEWRACE2, AGE2(9-17), MJEVER, COCEVER (fag!), CRKEVER, HEREVER (...better), LSD, METHDES

* I realize the usage figures for meth and LSD strain credulity, apparently being more experimented with than even marijuana. I'm unsure of why this is the case, but I doubled-checked the figures and that's what the results show, so take the meth data with a grain of your favorite substance. It's probably still worth noting the disparity between those eligible and ineligible for Medicaid, though.

++Addition++Dan shows how wildly off the meth (and by extension LSD) numbers are. The LSD and meth questions are grouped in under larger categories for hallucinogens and amphetamines, respectively, so it's probably "if you have ever used a hallucinogen, have you used LSD?", etc. Consequently, the racial distribution for meth use likely only applies to those who've used amphetamines of some kind. I'm fairly confident about the figures for the other drugs, though.


Anonymous said...

What about people with a bona fide Rx for injury/illness etc?

There is an exception right?

Audacious Epigone said...

I'm not sure about the Florida drug testing, though I assume so. All the relevant survey questions ask about non-prescription usage.

Dan said...

63.6% of Asians have tried non-perscription meth? This from the model minority?

I can't believe it. Isn't meth supposed to be a redneck/rural thing? Asians tend to prefer urban/suburban areas by and large.

Something's not right with these numbers, unless I've been totally in a bubble. It has not even occurred to me to try meth, and I have never even heard of anyone I know of being a user.

Dan said...

I am not Asian but I know a ton of'em.

I suppose I can imagine whites across Kentucky and WV using meth since they are distant from me, but most Asians live where I do, in and around coastal cities. Are the meth labs all over the suburbs brewing away that I don't know about?

Dan said...

Well I know my world not at all...

The most Asian state of course is, far and away, Hawaii. The next most Asian state is probably California.

Lo and behold:

Hawaii blows away all other states in meth use.

Dan said...

Here are some figures that make more sense: Basically 3% of Americans have ever tried meth according to this.

"The proportion of Americans who use methamphetamine on a monthly basis has hovered in the range of 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent since 1999. Almost 11 million Americans have tried methamphetamine at least once – far fewer than those who have tried inhalants (23 million), psychedelics (34 million), cocaine (34 million), or marijuana (100 million). Of those 10.3 million, only 1.3 million used methamphetamine in the last year; and only 512,000 used it within the last 30 days. The estimated number of semi-regular methamphetamine users in the U.S. (those who use once a month or more) equals less than one quarter of one percent of the population (0.2 percent)."

I suspect that the drug questions are 'sub-questions' on the survey. For instance, "if you have ever taken an illegal drug other than marijuana then have you..."

Aeoli Pera said...


Nice find.

Audacious Epigone said...


I think you're right regarding the LSD and meth questions, as they're grouped in under a larger category for hallucinogens and amphetamines, respectively, so it's probably "if you have ever used a hallucinogen, have you used LSD", etc. I'm fairly confident about the figures for the other drugs, though.

Audacious Epigone said...

Also, given the high Hawaii numbers, I should note that "Asian", as usual with these things, includes Pacific Islanders.

Anonymous said...

Also, given the high Hawaii numbers, I should note that "Asian", as usual with these things, includes Pacific Islanders.

Assuming representative sampling, there are about 1/10 as many PI Americans as Asian Americans, so if you assumed the Asian Americans were at the White rate for meth use (52.3) and PI's used meth at 100% rates, then combined Asian+PI would have a rate of 57.7.

If you assume Asian Americans used meth at 60% rates (almost the same as reported) and API at 100%, then you'd get 64%, but I think that's pretty unrealistic.