Academic journal article Social Justice

Pregnant Drug Users: Scapegoats of Reagan/bush and Clinton-Era Economics

Academic journal article Social Justice

Pregnant Drug Users: Scapegoats of Reagan/bush and Clinton-Era Economics

Article excerpt

Introduction

IN THIS ARTICLE WE PRESENT ANALYSES FROM TWO NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG Abuse-funded studies: "An Ethnographic Study of Pregnancy and Drug Use" (Rosenbaum and Murphy, 1991-1994) and "An Ethnography of Victimization, Pregnancy, and Drug Use" (Murphy, 1995-1998). Our goal is to explicate the ways in which pregnant drug users in the San Francisco Bay Area experienced, coped with, and protected themselves from increasing stigmatization, abuse, and punishment while enduring a period of fiscal retrenchment of government assistance programs.

Beginning in the 1980s, the trend was for social welfare programs to move from federally mandated and funded programs developed in the 1960s to state-by-state directed programs funded through federal block-grant mechanisms. These policies were advanced during the Reagan/Bush administrations and continued during the Clinton era. Due to shrinking budgets at the state level, numerous social service programs shifted to public subsidization supervised by local governments and finally to privatization or the purchase of privately produced services. Historically, the downsizing of human service program provision tends to occur as programs move from federal to state to local supervision (Feldstein, 1988).

For pregnant drug users with limited means, these funding decisions created barriers and denied access to cost-effective services that would enable them to improve their lives. As a result, they were forced to find alternative resources and to construct survival strategies. The women we interviewed reported that drug use helped them overcome some adversities in their daily lives. It was sometimes a source of income and usually a source of solace and recreation. Although drug use helped interviewees survive on a day-to-day basis, in the long term, women faced severe consequences. In a political context of social welfare reform, our interviewees' ability to care for themselves and their children was extremely compromised. Our collection of data over a seven-year period enabled us to chart interviewees' perspectives and experiences within changing social and policy climates. In the following, we detail the ways in which pregnant drug users became ideological targets in the U.S. war on drugs. The media and politi cians promulgated pernicious images of drug-using mothers having babies simply to qualify for government handouts that would enable them to buy drugs and then neglect and abuse these children (Campbell, 2000; Humphries, 1999). These images contributed to the passage of legislation and funding allocations that resulted in the wholesale reduction of social welfare services to all poor women and children. The war on drugs has always been a war on the poor, particularly people of color (Maher, 1992; Murphy and Rosenbaum, 1999). By 2001, drug use and drug users were clearly playing a very important role in defining poverty among women and children as an individual behavioral problem, rather than the result of systematic, structural economic inequities.

Methods

An Ethnographic Study of Pregnancy and Drugs: "An Ethnographic Study of Pregnancy and Drugs," conducted between 1991 and 1994, was a study of drug use during pregnancy in the San Francisco Bay Area (Rosenbaum and Murphy, 1991-1994). We employed fieldwork, depth-interviewing, and closed-ended questions as the primary data-gathering tools. We interviewed 120 pregnant or postpartum adult women who were using heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine singly or in combination for a minimum of 25 days during their current or most recent pregnancy. Women who were enrolled in drug treatment for more than five days within a four-week period were not included in the study. Those women who were in treatment for less than five days had to have returned to drug use for five or more days since their last day of treatment. These criteria allowed us to interview women who had brief encounters with drug treatment and had subsequently returned to drug use. …

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