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Research Summary

Use of Youth Substance Abuse Treatment Versus the Justice System: Race Is a Factor

Racial and ethnic disparities exist among youth who become involved with the juvenile justice system. Whether disparities exist in youth access to substance abuse treatment is less clear. To examine possible disparities in treatment use and how they may relate to justice system involvement, researchers assessed 420 adolescents aged 13–18 years who had received services from at least one public service sector (e.g., substance abuse treatment, social services, juvenile justice) and met DSM-IV criteria for substance abuse and/or dependence in the past year.

  • Non-whites were much less likely than whites to have received outpatient substance abuse treatment during the past year (odds ratio, OR, 0.4).
  • They were also much more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system than to have received specialty alcohol or drug treatment (OR 10.2).


Non-white adolescents in the public system, compared with white adolescents, receive less appropriate care for substance abuse and dependence. They are much less likely to receive outpatient addiction treatment services and more likely to be involved in the justice system where their health needs may not be adequately addressed. As suggested by the authors, all adolescents— regardless of where they come into contact with the public service system— should be assessed for addictions and linked with treatment as appropriate.

Rosanne T. Guerriero, MPH


Aarons GA, Brown SA, Garland AF, et al. Race/ethnic disparity and correlates of substance abuse service utilization and juvenile justice involvement among adolescents with substance use disorders. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. 2004;3(1):47–64.
(view abstract)