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Drugs don't help people fare well

By The Parkersburg (W.Va.) News / July 11, 1994



FOR years it has been an article of liberal faith - not to mention a tremendous vote-getter - that conservatives were to be ridiculed for wondering aloud what role drug and alcohol abuse might play in hard-core welfare cases.

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The stereotype of the drunk, hooked welfare mom was propaganda cooked up by those who had no compassion for the poor, we were told.

It turns out there was more than stereotyping involved. One in four mothers receiving welfare benefits uses illegal drugs or drinks excessively, according to a study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The number differs from the government's own figures, which claim only about 4.5 percent of welfare mothers have ``debilitating'' substance abuse problems.

Federal officials were quick to condemn the study. It used overly-broad definitions of excessive alcohol consumption and drug abuse, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

For the record, the study assumed abuse of alcohol if a person had more than five drinks at a sitting, twice a month. It assumed drug abuse if a person had used controlled substances within the last year.

But not taken into account by HHS was the fact that a substantial amount of drug and alcohol abuse simply wasn't admitted by welfare mothers....

The danger in response to the study is that it will be condemned as one more attempt to boot deserving people off the welfare rolls. It is no such thing. Even the most pessimistic drug and alcohol abuse figure still leaves three-fourths of welfare mothers behaving conscientiously - not taking money out of their children's mouths to buy booze or dope. In that light, the study is an affirmation that many women who get society's help aren't abusing the privilege.

But it also indicates that drugs and alcohol are a more serious welfare problem than has been admitted in the past. Pretending that problem doesn't exist merely will allow it to grow.