Welfare Receipt and Substance-Abuse Treatment Among Low-Income Mothers

The Impact of Welfare Reform

Published In: American Journal of Public Health, v. 96, no. 11, Nov. 2006, p. 2024-2031

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2006

by Harold Pollack, Peter Reuter

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OBJECTIVES: We explored changing relations between substance use, welfare receipt, and substance-abuse treatment among low-income mothers before and after welfare reform. METHODS: We examined annual data from mothers aged 18 to 49 years in the 1990-2001 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse and the 2002 National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Logistic regression was used to examine determinants of treatment receipt. RESULTS: Among low-income, substance-using mothers, the proportion receiving cash assistance declined from 54% in 1996 to 38% in 2001. The decline was much smaller (37% to 31%) among low-income mothers who did not use illicit substances. Low-income, substance-using mothers who received cash assistance were much more likely than other low-income, substance-using mothers to receive treatment services. Among 2002 National Survey of Drug Use and Health respondents deemed in need of substance-abuse treatment, welfare recipients were significantly more likely than nonrecipients to receive such services (adjusted odds ratio=2.31; P<.05). Controlling for other factors, welfare receipt was associated with higher prevalence of illicit drug use. Such use declined among both welfare recipients and other mothers between 1990 and 2001. CONCLUSIONS: Welfare is a major access point to identify and serve low-income mothers with substance-use disorders, but it reaches a smaller proportion of illicit drug users than it did pre-reform. Declining welfare receipt among low-income mothers with substance abuse disorders poses a new challenge in serving this population.

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