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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Severe Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders Among Former Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries for Drug Addiction and Alcoholism
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Background: Recently enacted federal legislation targeted at curbing perceived abuses of cash benefits for former Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries for drug addiction and/or alcoholism (DA&A) may be creating a residual population that is too seriously impaired to work owing to psychiatric and substance use disorders.

Method: Data in this report were derived from 1-year follow-up interviews of 204 randomly selected DA&A beneficiaries in Chicago who were initially interviewed between January 1997 and March 1997, immediately following their termination in the Supplemental Security Income DA&A program. Information on subjects' work and benefits status were collected along with DSM-III-R psychiatric and substance use disorder diagnostic information. Urine specimens were also collected and tested for recent use of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, amphetamines, and methadone.

Results: Twenty-six percent had a past-year severe mental illness while 34% met the DSM-III-R criteria for drug dependence. Illegal drug use was also prevalent with about 50% of the sample testing positive for marijuana, cocaine, or opiates. Compared with those working and earning at least $500 a month, unemployed or underemployed subjects who had lost all federal benefits had a much greater likelihood of being dependent on drugs (odds ratio, 5.0; P<.005; 95% confidence interval, 1.6-15.7) and of having 2 or more comorbid psychiatric disorders (odds ratio, 6.9; P<.005; 95% confidence interval, 1.9-24.7).

Conclusions: Those who have lost DA&A disability benefits and who continue to be unemployed or underemployed have elevated rates of drug dependence and psychiatric comorbidities; consequently, helping these cases make the transition from government assistance to sustained employment is increasingly difficult. (Authors)