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A comparison of drug use between welfare-receiving arrestees and non-welfare-receiving arrestees. (Practice Forum).

Research in welfare reform has identified a number of potential barriers to employment, including alcohol and other drug use (Danziger et al., 1999). Substance abuse in particular is presumed to play a major role in a welfare recipient's ability to obtain and retain employment. Despite the focus on substance abuse among individuals receiving public assistance, few studies have identified the prevalence of illegal drug use among welfare recipients (Bassuk, Buckner, Perloff, & Bassuk, 1998; Grant & Dawson, 1996; Salomon, Bassuk, & Brooks, 1996; Sisco & Pearson, 1994; Weisner & Schmidt, 1993).

These studies have two major methodological limitations. First, with the exception of Weisner and Schmidt (1993) and Bassuk et al. (1998), rates of drug use among welfare recipients were not compared with rates among non-welfare-receiving samples. Second, none of the studies used an objective measure of drug use. In the current study, we overcame these previous limitations by examining whether welfare-receiving arrestees tested positive for illegal drugs at rates comparable to non-welfare-receiving arrestees living below the poverty level and to non-welfare-receiving arrestees living above the poverty level. We made this distinction among subgroups because we suspected that some welfare-receiving arrestees would fail to report public assistance as their primary source of income or that some arrestees did not even receive public assistance despite an income that indicated eligibility.

METHOD

The National Institute of Justice established the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program in 1987 (Yacoubian, 2000). Data for the current study were collected from adult arrestees surveyed through Philadelphia's ADAM program in 1997. During the four quarters of calendar year 1997, research personnel obtained selfreport survey data and urine specimens from 862 arrestees.

After answering demographic questions, arrestees were asked to report whether they had used a number of specific drugs during their lifetime, during the past 12 months, during the past 30 days, and during the past three days. In addition, a urine specimen was collected and screened for 10 drugs. It is important to note that urine specimens are capable of detecting the presence of illegal drugs up to 72 hours after ingestion. Unlike hair testing, which offers historical drug use data, urine specimens are sensitive to recent drug use. The sole exception is marijuana, which can be detected for up to 30 days in the urine of chronic users.

DATA ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Demographic Characteristics

Of the 862 arrestees in the sample, 196 (23 percent) reported welfare or Supplemental Security Income as their main source of income within the past 30 days. These arrestees were identified as the welfare-receiving subgroup. The remaining arrestees were divided into non-welfare-receiving arrestees living below the poverty level (annual incomes of less than $8,300, n = 312) and non-welfare-receiving arrestees living above the poverty level (annual incomes above $8,300, n = 354) based on reported income (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Demographic characteristics among the three subgroups were comparable (Table 1).

Drug-Positive Rates

The most prevalent drug among the welfarereceiving arrestee population was cocaine (48 Percent), followed by marijuana (27 percent) (Table 2). The only statistically significant differences among the three groups were with cocaine and marijuana. For example, 48 percent of the welfare-receiving arrestees tested positive for cocaine, compared with 39 percent of the non-welfare-receiving arrestees living above the poverty level (p < 0.01).

Drug-Positive Rates, by Gender

There were significant gender differences across the three subgroups. Among the welfare-receiving arrestees, 58 percent of the female arrestees tested positive for cocaine, compared with only 30 percent of the male arrestees (p < .001) (Table 3). Among the non-welfare-receiving arrestees living below the poverty level, 65 percent of the women tested positive for cocaine, compared with only 36 percent of the men (p < .001). Among the non-welfare-receiving arrestees living above the poverty level, 52 percent of the women tested positive for cocaine, compared with only 34 percent of the men (p < .001).

DISCUSSION

In the current study we demonstrated that welfare-receiving arrestees were similar in their drug-using behaviors to non-welfare-receiving arrestees living below and above the poverty level. These findings may hold implications for how welfare-receiving clients are perceived and how substance abuse prevention and treatment programs are implemented across social services settings. Given the results, media reports that have stigmatized welfare-receiving populations as "more drug-using" seem unjustified.

Although the generalizability of our findings to the non-arrestee welfare-receiving population is an empirical question, the difference for cocaine-positives in our sample should be an area of concern for social services providers. If welfare-receiving and welfare-eligible clients test positive for cocaine at rates higher than their non-welfare-receiving counterparts, there may be a critical need for increased drug surveillance systems and drug treatment referrals for individuals receiving public assistance.

Drug testing of welfare recipients is an inexpensive method through which drug use can be identified. Although the legality and reasonableness of drug testing welfare recipients is open to debate (Legal Action Center, 1997), urine testing can be an effective first step in identifying drug use problems. Although positive urine tests are not necessarily indicative of drug dependence, supplemental diagnostic tools can be administered to assess treatment need. Because welfare recipients are subject to time-limited benefits that require the eventual transition to work and given the inexorable link between substance abuse and failed employment, jurisdictional welfare providers would be well-advised to identify potential drug use problems and treatment needs before the transition to private employment.
Table 1.

Demographic Characteristics Welfare-Receiving and Non-Welfare-Receiving
Arrestees (N = 862)

 % Non-Welfare-Receiving
 % Welfare-Receiving Arrestees Living below
 Arrestees the Poverty Level
Variable (n = 196) (n = 312)

Gender
 Male 35 66
 Female 65 34
Race
 African American 65 65
 White 27 21
 Hispanic 8 14
 Other -- --
Education
 No terminal degree 55 49
 High school diploma 31 36
 GED 11 12
 In high school 3 3
Primary charge
 Miscellaneous 29 22
 Drug or alcohol 28 26
 Property 18 27
 Personal 25 25
Mean age (in years) 31.9 27.8

 % Non-Welfare-Receiving
 Arrestees Living above
 the Poverty Level
Variable (n = 354)

Gender
 Male 70
 Female 30
Race
 African American 57
 White 30
 Hispanic 11
 Other 2
Education
 No terminal degree 32
 High school diploma 50
 GED 15
 In high school 3
Primary charge
 Miscellaneous 30
 Drug or alcohol 26
 Property 22
 Personal 22
Mean age (in years) 29.5

-- = not available.
Table 2.

Drug-Positive Rates for Welfare-Receiving Arrestees and
Non-Welfare-Receiving Arrestees (N = 862)

 Non-Welfare-Receiving
 Welfare-Receiving Arrestees Living below
 Arrestees the Poverty Line
 (n= 196) (n= 312)
Drug n % n %

Cocaine 94 48 142 46
Marijuana 53 27 121 39
Opiates 29 15 29 9
Benzodiazepines 26 13 27 9

 Non-Welfare-Receiving
 Arrestees Living above
 the Poverty Line
 (n= 354)
Drug n %

Cocaine 139 39
Marijuana 113 32
Opiates 53 15
Benzodiazepines 38 11

NOTES: [chi square] significant at the p < .01 level. Numbers do not add
to total because some subjects tested positive for more than one drug.
Table 3.

Drug-Positive Rates for Welfare-Receiving and Non-Welfare-Receiving
Arrestees, by Gender (N = 862)


 Welfare-Receiving
 Arrestees
 Male Female
 (n = 69) (n = 127)
Drug n % n %

Cocaine 21 30 * 73 58
Marijuana 25 36 ** 28 22 **
Opiates 8 12 21 17
Benzodiazepines 9 13 17 13

 Non-Welfare-Receiving
 Arrestees Living below
 the Poverty Level
 Male Female
 (n = 205) (n = 107)
Drug n % n %

Cocaine 73 36 * 69 65 *
Marijuana 95 46 * 26 24 *
Opiates 17 8 12 11
Benzodiazepines 16 8 11 10

 Non-Welfare-Receiving
 Arrestees Living above
 the Poverty Level
 Male Female
 (n = 249) (n = 105)
Drug n % n %

Cocaine 84 34 * 55 52 *
Marijuana 96 39 * 17 16 *
Opiates 32 13 21 20
Benzodiazepines 22 9 16 15

NOTES:

* [chi square] significant at the p<.001 level.

** [chi square] significant at the p<.01 level.

Numbers do not add to total because some subjects tested positive for
more than one drug.


Accepted January 14, 2002

REFERENCES

Bassuk, E. L., Buckner, J. C., Perloff, J. N., & Bassuk, S. S. (1998). Prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders among homeless and low-income housed mothers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 1561-1564.

Danziger, S., Corcoran, M., Danziger, S., Heflin, C., Kalil, A., Levine, J., Rosen, D., Seefeldt, K., Siefert, K., & Tolman, R. (1999). Barriers to the employment of welfare recipients. Ann Arbor, MI: Poverty Research and Training Center.

Grant, B. F., & Dawson, D.A. (1996). Alcohol and drug use, abuse, and dependence among welfare recipients. American Journal of Public Health, 86, 1450-1454.

Legal Action Center. (1997). Making welfare reform work: Tools for confronting alcohol and drug problems among welfare recipients. Washington, DC: Author.

Salomon, A., Bassuk, S. S., & Brooks, M. G. (1996). Patterns of welfare use among poor and homeless women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 66, 510-525.

Sisco, C. B., & Pearson, C. L. (1994). Prevalence of alcoholism and drug abuse among female AFDC recipients. Health & Social Work, 19, 75-77.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). 2000 Federal poverty guidelines for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Federal Register, 65(3), 7555-7557.

Weisner, C. M., & Schmidt, L.A. (1993). Alcohol and drug problems among diverse health and social service populations. American Journal of Public Health, 83, 824-829.

Yacoubian, G. (2000). Assessing ADAM's domain: Past, present, and future. Contemporary Drug Problems, 27, 121-135.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

George S. Yacoubian, Jr., PhD, is director of research, McFarland and Associates, Inc., 8601 Georgia Avenue, Suite 601, Silver Spring, MD 20910; e-mail: gyacoubian@mcfarlandassociate.com. Blake J. Urbach, has a master's degree from Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of Central Florida.
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Article Details
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Author:Yacoubian, George S., Jr.; Urbach, Blake J.
Publication:Health and Social Work
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:1562
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