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84% of Youths In Juvenile Detention Ever Used Drugs, BJS Says

An estimated 84% of youths in juvenile detention facilities reported ever using drugs and 76% reported ever using alcohol, based on data collected in 2008–09, 2012, and 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. More youths reported never using drugs or alcohol in their lifetime in 2018 (15%) than in 2008–09 (9%). An estimated 60% of youths in juvenile facilities met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition criteria for substance use disorder in the 12 months before entering custody. More than a third (36%) met the criteria for alcohol use disorder at that time. “Although there have been decreases in substance use over time, it remains the case that over 50% of youths in juvenile facilities meet the criteria for substance use disorder,” said BJS Director Alexis Piquero.


From 2008 to 2018, an estimated 81% of youths reported ever using marijuana. Female youths were more likely than males to report ever having used 9 of the 13 types of drugs examined by the survey. Heterosexual youths (85%) were more likely to report ever using drugs than youths who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or some other sexual orientation (77%). “These data also show important demographic differences, with female youths reporting more substance use—with many more different types of substances—than male youths. And almost 90% of American Indian or Alaska Native youth met the criteria for substance use disorder,” Piquero said. Female youths were more likely to have met the criteria for substance use disorder (72%) or alcohol use disorder (48%) than male youths (59% substance and 34% alcohol). From 2008 to 2018, more than 6 in 10 (63%) of American Indian and Alaska Native youth met the criteria for severe substance use disorder. Findings are from a questionnaire given to 10% of youths in BJS’s National Survey of Youth in Custody in 2008–09, 2012 and 2018.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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