RAND Researchers Study Racial Disparities in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

Field of Work: Racial disparities in substance abuse treatment.

Problem Synopsis: In November 2000, California voters approved Proposition 36, a diversion program aimed at nonviolent drug-possession offenders. Proposition 36 specifies that an offender convicted of a nonviolent drug-possession offense will generally be sentenced to probation instead of state prison, county jail or probation without drug treatment. As a condition of probation, the offender must complete a drug treatment program. What was not known was whether there were racial disparities in access to substance abuse treatment.

Synopsis of the Work: Researchers at the RAND Corporation examined whether there were racial disparities in access to health care, satisfaction with services and perceived quality of life among people participating in substance abuse treatment programs. When they were not able to obtain data as part of a RAND study of California's Proposition 36 drug possession offender program, researchers analyzed data from a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) national program Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

  • African-American and Hispanic substance abusers in methadone treatment reported higher perceived quality of life than did white substance abusers. Higher levels of perceived quality of life were associated with fair or better health, employment, having private health insurance and not sensing barriers to securing health care.

    Higher levels of perceived quality of life were associated with:
    • Viewing general health as fair, good or excellent, rather than poor.
    • Being employed full-time or part-time rather than unemployed.
    • Having private health insurance rather than public (e.g., VA or Medicaid) insurance.
  • Viewing the treatment program as a quality program was not significantly associated with perceived quality of life.