Drug treatment, health, and social service utilization by substance abusing women from a community-based sample

Helena Hansen, Margarita Alegría, Carmen Ana Cabán, Marisol Peña, Shenghan Lai, Patrick Shrout
Medical Care 2004, 42 (11): 1117-24

BACKGROUND: Substance abuse is an escalating problem among poor urban Latina women; little is known about their access to drug treatment and to needed social and health services.

OBJECTIVE: Our objectives were to (1) examine the need and use of substance abuse treatment, health services, government entitlement programs, and social service programs among cocaine and heroin using Puerto Rican women and (2) identify whether service use predicts their prospective entry into drug treatment.

RESEARCH DESIGN: This was a 3-wave longitudinal study of community substance abusing women evaluated on substance abuse and dependence using diagnostic measures, and hair and urine toxicological screens. Information was collected on self-reported need and receipt of substance abuse treatment, social services, general health services, and government entitlement programs.

SUBJECTS: A community sample of cocaine-, crack-, and/or heroin-using women from copping areas in low-income urban centers of Puerto Rico were interviewed in 1997-1998 with 2 follow-up periods.

RESULTS: Drug treatment, health, and social service utilization were low relative to need for services throughout all data waves. Social service utilization predicted prospective entry into drug treatment but not contacts with general health services or government entitlement programs.

CONCLUSION: Drug-abusing women in low-income urban areas in Puerto Rico have substantial unmet substance abuse treatment, health, and social service needs. Mandated treatment by social service agencies may explain their clients' higher likelihood of entering drug treatment. Building linkages between service sectors to augment entry into drug treatment is essential for meeting the complex needs of this underserved population.

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