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Resource for Parents: Juvenile Drug Prevention and Diversion Programs

A resource for parents on juvenile drug diversion and drug prevention for teens.Drug abuse and addiction is not only a problem for adults, it is a rapidly growing issue for adolescents and – in some cases – younger children.

Before they are able to drive or get a job, young people without the means to purchase illicit drugs can simply raid the home medicine cabinet or those of their friends to find over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs easily within their reach.

Without realizing the long-term impact, this method of experimentation can be the beginning of a potentially life-long battle with addiction.

Because many people, especially children and teens, view prescription and over the counter drugs as “safe,” they often fail to realize the dangers posed by recreational use of prescription drugs.

Peers at school offer not only prescription drugs, but illegal drugs as well, making it easy for students looking to experiment, escape, or rebel to obtain the substances necessary to achieve their desired fix. Unfortunately, addiction and habits can form quickly and become very difficult to overcome.

Drug and alcohol use in youths has long been linked to other problems, many of which can turn into criminal matters. Before long, concerned parents must struggle not only with how to help their children get off drugs, but also find themselves watching their children face terrifying legal problems. Common youthful mistakes can snowball quickly into lifelong consequences.

For young people charged with drug-related crimes (i.e. theft, burglary, and DUI) detention in a juvenile facility is seldom the best solution. Youths need resources to break their cycle of addiction, support to deal with complex emotional issues, and education to make better choices.

Thankfully, some jurisdictions have begun to recognize that incarceration for drug and alcohol related offenses only exacerbates and does not treat the underlying problem. Recidivism rates remain high for those who do not get adequate treatment for their addictions, and the cost society pays to detain these individuals continues to climb. Drug diversion programs for juveniles, however, frequently cost less in the short and long term when compared with detention.

Drug Abuse Statistics among the Nation’s Teens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducts an annual survey known as “Monitoring the Future” to analyze substance use of teens from eighth through twelfth grades. Their 2013 survey results revealed that over the course of the year prior to the survey, greater than 40 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana or synthetic marijuana, also called K2 or Spice. It is by far the most commonly abused drug among young individuals.

The next four most commonly used drug types among this age group were pharmaceutical drugs.  The results indicate that roughly 15 percent of the surveyed seniors had used a prescription drug for recreational purposes in the previous 12 months.

  • Adderall (7.4%)
  • Vicodin (5.3%)
  • Cough Medicine (5%)
  • Sedatives (4.8%)
  • Tranquilizers (4.6%)
  • OxyContin (3.6%)
  • Ritalin (2.3%)

While these drugs are manufactured for the treatment of specific medical conditions, they are only safe when used as directed by a medical professional, and can become addictive or even deadly when used improperly.

Other illegal street drugs are less commonly abused by teens than marijuana and prescription drugs , but nearly seven percent have used cocaine at least once, almost three percent have tried heroin at least once, and nearly four percent have used methamphetamines at some point.

Warning Signs of Drug Dependence

Failure to recognize the warning signs of drug dependence enables individuals to continue in an unhealthy lifestyle. Whether reflecting upon one’s own situation to see the signs of addiction, or recognizing the characteristics of an addict in those you love, it takes admitting a substance abuse problem to begin the steps necessary to combat the problem.

Those who feel they have control over their drug situation should ask themselves a few questions (and answer them honestly) to evaluate how much hold drugs have on them:

  • Do you need the drug every day?
  • Have you failed to stop using the drug, even though you tried to stop?
  • Do you constantly replenish your drug supply, making sure you do not run out of it?
  • Do you steal to obtain the drug?
  • Does the drug help you deal with life/problems/relationships?
  • Do you participate in risky or reckless behaviors when under the influence of the drug?
  • Do you constantly think about the drug?

While those facing drug addiction may avoid looking at the facts, it may be obvious to loved ones and outsiders that there is a problem and they should intervene. Parents, teachers, and other adults who suspect a teen is suffering from substance abuse should look for these warning signs:

  • Sudden lack of interest/performance in school and school-related activities
  • Sudden drop in grades and attendance
  • Lack of motivation, interest, and energy
  • Demands for extreme privacy
  • Drastic behavioral changes and mood swings
  • Constant requests for money or lost/missing items of value throughout the house

The use of different drugs can result in different signs and symptoms, but it is important to be aware of sudden and significant changes in the person that might indicate a substance abuse problem that needs to be addressed. Confronting the issue is a necessary step in obtaining help.

Drug Court and Juvenile Diversion Programs

Diversion programs in jurisdictions throughout the US are designed to give non-violent first offenders a second chance to get back on the right track.Using community based strategies, including probation, drug and alcohol treatment, community service, and counseling, these programs are intended to rehabilitate rather than punish young people.

Ignoring the underlying causes of juvenile crime only allows the problem to fester, leading to an increased likelihood that the juvenile offender will become an adult offender.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, calls specialty courts and jail diversion programs “the ‘problem-solving’ wave of the future.”

Recognizing this, several federal agencies, including SAMHSA and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) have collaborated to create grants to help local jurisdictions to create and improve juvenile drug diversion programs, expanding their reach and the substance abuse treatment options available to non-violent juvenile offenders.