UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Increased drug use and the timing of social assistance receipt among people who use illicit drugs Krebs, Emanuel; Wang, Linwei; Olding, Michelle; DeBeck, Kora; Hayashi, Kanna; Milloy, M-J; Wood, Evan; Nosyk, Bohdan; Richardson, Lindsey


Background: The monthly disbursement of social assistance (SA) payments to people who use illicit drugs (PWUD) has been temporally associated with increases in drug-related harm. Yet, whether SA receipt changes drug use intensity compared to levels of use at other times in the month has not been established. We therefore examined this relationship among PWUD in Vancouver, Canada (2005–2013). Methods: Data were derived from prospective cohorts of HIV-positive and HIV-negative PWUD. Every six months, participants were asked about their illicit drug use during the last 180 days and the past week. We determined whether SA receipt occurred within the assessment's one-week recall period. We employed generalized estimating equations controlling for confounders to examine the relationship between SA receipt and the change in drug use intensity, defined as a 100% increase in the average times per day a given drug was used in the last week compared to the previous 6 months. We tested the robustness of this relationship by stratifying analyses by whether individuals primarily used stimulants, illicit opioids or engaged in polydrug use and examining the timing of SA receipt relative to date of assessment. Results: Our study included 2661 individuals (median age 36, 32% female) with 1415 (53.2%) reporting SA receipt occurring within the one-week recall period of the assessment at least once. SA receipt was independently associated with intensified drug use (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]: 1.79; 95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 1.53, 2.09), and remained significant when stratified by primary use of stimulants (AOR: 1.87; 95% CI: 1.54, 2.26), opioids (AOR: 1.96; 95% CI: 1.23, 3.13) and polydrug use (AOR: 1.53; 95% CI: 1.11, 2.10). Conclusion: We found a temporal association between SA receipt and drug use intensification. While the health and social benefits of SA are significant, these findings suggest that alternative disbursement strategies, such as staggered or smaller and more frequent SA payments may be able to mitigate drug-related harm. Alternatives should be tested rigorously.

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