Who gets screened and who tests positive? Drug screening among justice-involved youth in a midwestern urban county

Health Justice. 2024 Apr 5;12(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s40352-024-00273-w.


Background: Given high rates of substance use among justice-involved youth, justice systems have attempted to monitor use through drug screening (DS) procedures. However, there is discretion in deciding who is screened for substance use, as not every youth who encounters the system is screened. The aim of the current study was to examine factors associated with selection for and results of oral DS among justice-involved youth assigned to probation to better inform potential DS policy. Electronic court records from 4,668 youth with first-incident records assigned to probation in a midwestern urban county's juvenile justice system between 2011 and 2016 were included in the analytical sample. Race/ethnicity, gender, age, number of charges and charge type for the current incident were included as independent variables.

Results: Multivariable hierarchical logistic regression analyses indicated that males were more likely to be assigned to DS (aOR = 0.40, 95%CI [0.34, 0.46]), and more likely to test positive for use (aOR = 0.43, 95% CI [0.34, 0.54]) than females. As age increased, youth were less likely to be assigned to DS (aOR = 0.91, 95% CI [0.87, 0.94]), with non-significant differences in DS results. Greater number of charges were associated with a higher likelihood of being assigned to DS (aOR = 1.55, 95% CI [1.43, 1.68]). Youth with violent offenses were more likely to be assigned to DS than those with other offense types (property offenses, drug offenses, statutory offenses, disorderly conduct, and all other offenses), but less likely to test positive for use.

Conclusions: Many factors were associated with differences in DS, but these factors were not always associated with differential DS results. Demographic or charge-based decisions may not be appropriate for DS assignment.

Keywords: Drug screening; Juvenile justice; Juvenile probation.