Conclusions and Recommendations


Because substance abuse and delinquency are inextricably interrelated, identifying substance-abusing youth in the juvenile justice system is an important first step for intervening in both their substance abuse and their delinquent behavior. Drug identification strategies, followed by effective interventions, help prevent further illicit drug use and delinquency. Drug testing can be a constructive means of helping youth overcome denial of their substance abuse. As a part of intervention, drug testing can be used to help youth achieve and maintain recovery and curtail other deviant behaviors. Over time, effective drug identification will help juvenile justice agencies achieve the goals of a balanced approach including community protection, youth accountability, and competency development.

Five sites engaged primarily in juvenile probation and three juvenile detention centers implemented the drug identification programs reported in this Summary. Each received assistance from the APPA or the ACA/IBH to establish a drug-testing and intervention program meeting standards based on national research on drug-testing programs. Across the eight demonstration sites, the percentage of positive drug test results obtained from youth ranged from 10 percent in one site to 37 percent in another, a finding that corresponds to other data that show a significant amount of illicit drug use among youth in the juvenile justice system. The most frequent positive results in all sites were for marijuana. In most of the sites, the next highest rate of positive results was for cocaine. However, in all but one site, the percentage of positive results for cocaine was dramatically lower than the percentage of positive results for marijuana. Two sites had several positive tests for PCP. Several sites also reported positive results for other, unspecified drugs. Across the eight sites, positive test results for opiates, barbiturates, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines were minimal. However, one detention site reported that although youth were admitting use of amphetamines at higher rates, cost factors prohibited routine testing for these drugs. These results point out that patterns of illicit drug use by youth may be quite diverse in different localities. Drug testing can help those who work with juveniles determine usage patterns.

Most programs found staff to be supportive of drug-testing programs, especially if they were involved in the initial planning of the programs. Problems related to youth cooperation with the programs also were reported to be minimal, and several examples of parental support for the programs were provided. By-and-large, community stakeholders encouraged and supported the programs; however, there were a few incidents of specific individuals or groups who created initial barriers.

A key ingredient of a drug identification program is the intervention that occurs after the determination of test results. Drug testing is a vital tool for case planning and ongoing monitoring of substance-abusing youth. Critical to intervention is the ability of juvenile justice practitioners to apply immediate rewards or consequences to substance-abusing youth and to find appropriate education and treatment programs in the community for them.


Following are several recommendations for effective drug identification programs distilled from the experiences of the APPA and ACA/IBH projects.

  • Program planning, development, and implementation should include all potentially affected persons, including agency administrators, line personnel, key juvenile justice stakeholders (e.g., judges, court administrators, prosecuting and defense attorneys), and important community representatives (e.g., substance abuse, mental health, and medical treatment providers).

  • The program purpose should complement the agency's mission statement.

  • There should be a clearly defined rationale and procedure for identifying youth to be included in the program. For detention programs, all youth entering a center should be screened. For probation programs, all youth may be screened, but it is usually cost effective to limit ongoing tests to those found to have a substance abuse problem.

  • The program must have written policies and procedures that all staff read and understand. This document should detail areas such as the agency's authority to perform drug testing (i.e., State statutes, court orders, or agency policy), procedures for observed specimen collection, chain of custody, cutoff levels, confirmation procedures, use of results, and confidentiality for youth in the program. Youth identified as having alcohol and other drug use problems often need multiple services from a variety of community agencies. Juvenile justice agencies and the youth they serve will benefit from interagency partnerships to provide these services. Clearly articulated interagency agreements, including referral processes and procedures for sharing information between agencies, should be included in program policy documents.

  • Drug testing in probation agencies should be used with sufficient frequency and randomness to identify and deter continued substance abuse.

  • Every use of drug identification measures should be followed by an intervention.

    • Positive indicators of chemical use should be followed by enhanced supervision, more frequent testing, and/or treatment responses.

    • Negative indicators of substance use should be followed by praise, rewards, and encouragement.

  • Interventions should be appropriate for the developmental stage of the youth and tailored to individual case plans.

  • Staff involved in the program should receive ongoing training.

  • Ongoing evaluation of the program should be undertaken, and the information obtained from the evaluation should be the basis for decisions about the future direction of the program.

Although drug testing is an additional expense for juvenile justice agencies, it often can save money over time by helping staff manage cases more appropriately, thereby preventing further substance abuse and delinquency that return youth to detention or confinement and probation or other juvenile justice agencies. However, the most important reason for implementing drug testing is its benefits for individual youth, their families, and communities. When lives can be reclaimed from patterns of substance abuse and delinquency, the personal and social advantages are immense.

Drug Identification and Testing in the Juvenile Justice System May 1998