Study: Youth in child welfare system more likely to abuse drugs

New research from the University of California, San Diego, has found that adolescents in the child welfare system are more likely to have tried marijuana, inhalants or hard drugs than their peers.

The findings, based on data from National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, included:

  • 18 percent of teens in the welfare system reported smoking marijuana (compared to 14 percent)
  • 12 percent of teens admitted to abusing inhalants (compared to 6 percent)
  • 6 percent reported using “hard drugs” such as cocaine and heroin (compared to 4 percent)

The researchers also found that parental or caregiver involvement can influence whether youth in the welfare system engage in risky behavior. For example, those who reported feeling close to their parents or guardians were less likely to report drug use.

Lead author Danielle L. Fettes, Ph.D., said in a press release:

“Given the increased risk, the child welfare system may be an ideal venue to incorporate proven prevention and intervention programs for youth substance use. … Drug abuse screening and treatment, or referrals for treatment, should be a regular part of kids’ case management.”

The study, “Higher Rates of Adolescent Substance Use in Child Welfare Versus Community Populations in the United States,” appeared in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.