Study Finds Drug Use in 43% of Youths Held

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an apparent indication of widespread drug abuse among juvenile offenders, 43% of youths booked into Orange County Juvenile Hall tested positive for drug use, according to a study conducted by the County Probation Department.

The study, which was released this week, tested 505 juveniles over a 45-day period in October and November. The results seemed to bolster beliefs that drug use and juvenile crime are related.

Most of the subjects tested were suspected of committing serious offenses, said Rod Speer, a spokesman for the County Probation Department.

He said the youths voluntarily took urine tests for the study. Even though it was optional, more than 90% of the minors who were taken into custody decided to participate in the study.

"They were assured that the results were not going to be used against them in court," Speer said.

Of the 43% who tested positive for drugs, 16% had recently ingested between two and four drugs, the study found. The urine tests could detect drugs taken as long as five days ago.

The most popular drug among the juveniles was marijuana, with 28% of them testing positive for it. Cocaine accounted for 18%, followed by amphetamines with 10%, opiates with 3%, PCP with 3% and barbiturates with 1%.

Speer said the numbers were higher than in several surrounding counties, but attributed that to the different type of testing procedures and the high rate of juvenile participation in Orange County's study.

Essentially, he said, the results were "representative of the type of things that are going on here and in other counties. These findings are not weird or unusual."

The study was funded as part of a $425,000 federal grant examining substance abuse among juvenile offenders.

"The whole purpose of the grant is to set up a drug and alcohol therapy unit" in the county, Speer said.

Although most youths indicated that alcohol was their drug of choice, only about 3% tested positive for it. Speer said that may be because traces of alcohol leave the body faster than other drugs.

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