Report: Reclaiming Futures and Organizing Justice for Drug-Using Youth
Date:  09-29-2016

Aggressive Intervention can be more harmful than drug use, report finds
Via Reclaiming Futures

Some findings from Reclaiming Futures and Organizing Justice for Drug-Using Youth:

Youth Justice and Substance Abuse

  • Improving justice interventions for youth affected by problematic drug and alcohol use is more complicated than one might think. First, most of the young people involved in the justice system have some experience with alcohol and other drugs, but very few (perhaps one in ten) could be described as dependent or addicted. Intervention programs designed around an addiction model are not appropriate for the majority of young offenders, but treatment providers may struggle to find an effective alternative.

  • Second, over-intervening to prevent all drug use could end up causing more harm than drug use itself. As mentioned previously, formal intervention by the legal system comes with the risk of negative consequences. Being arrested, labeled as an offender, and forced to comply with court-imposed treatment can reinforce a young person’s anti-social attitudes, resulting in more rather than less offending (Wiley and Esbensen 2016). Justice officials must identify the actual risks presented by a young person’s drug use and not simply respond to its illegality.

  • Substance abuse treatment programs include a wide range of interventions – ranging from medications, therapy and counseling with individuals and families, to life-skills training, basic health supports, and spiritually oriented activities. These take place in settings as diverse as schools, outdoor camps, and locked facilities. Research studies examining the outcomes of different treatment methods employ different study designs, follow-up periods, and definitions of success, all of which make clear comparisons quite challenging. Tailoring treatment plans to a youth’s individual circumstance is essential to avoid inappropriate or excessive treatment. Read the full report here.