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Race and Treatment Success

A study out of the University of Iowa, published the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, shows a great disparity between white and minority patients when it comes to drug treatment success rates. The differences are not only striking, but vary between states, suggesting state-level policies may be having a large impact on who gets treatment and how effect the treatment turns out to be.

The study looked at how many people completed a treatment program, by race and by state (as well as other factors). It can be taken either as an indictment on states that did poorly or a positive commentary on states that have managed to transcend race for substance abuse treatment.

On average, across states, whites and Latinos complete programs the most (46.25% and 45.6%) while African Americans do the worst – only 37.5 percent completion. This is reflected as well in data for Iowa. The numbers here are averages; in some states, minorities actually did better than whites. The greatest disparity showed up in Tennessee, where African American clients were 35 percentage points behind whites. The differences, while striking in Tennessee, didn’t always follow racial or geographical stereotypes. For example, Latinos did significantly better in Texas and Florida, while Mississippi was very balanced when comparing whites and African Americans.

The study shows there is work to be done and that treatments may have to take race into account to reach higher completion rates and a better overall outcome. Part of the problem is an uneven distribution of both ethnicity and available treatment options. If a city has a majority of one ethnicity, but is strapped for treatment services, it necessarily offers less to those in that category who live there.

Other studies of this type have spawned charges of racism or unequal social services. In some cases, the federal government or the courts have stepped in to assure equality of outcomes across races. The study does not allege outright racism, but the factors that lead to disparity need to be addressed.


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