In two separate blog posts in 2016, we discussed opioid use rates and substance use issues among adolescent girls involved with juvenile justice. In July 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health (OWH) released a report on opioid use, misuse, and overdose in women. The report provides information on the gender-specific issues and gaps in knowledge regarding females with substance use concerns/disorders. The report discusses the differences among females and males regarding the progression of substance use, the biological, social, and cultural issues (e.g., pain; relationships; family/parenting; trauma, determinants of health), effective treatments and barriers to implementation, and areas for further research. As it relates to adolescent girls (ages 12-17 years old), the report indicates they are more likely to use and become dependent on non-medical uses of prescription drugs as compared to adolescent boys. Access to prescription drugs can come from a home medicine cabinet and may help relieve mental health or physical pain symptoms and/or be part of their peer culture.
In 2008 my colleagues and I wrote for and were awarded a recovery-oriented systems of care grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The primary goal of this grant was to develop and implement a trauma-informed and recovery-oriented system of care for adolescent girls. My colleagues and I were concerned about the increasing juvenile justice involvement and substance use rates among adolescent girls with little to no increases in their rates of enrollment in treatment. Our previous research highlighted the significant levels of trauma and other co-occurring mental health problems among girls. In addition, we found girls had higher rates of “harder” drug use such as cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin/opiates as compared to boys. And on the positive side, we also found that girls who accessed treatment responded really well and made significant behavioral improvements over time.
Other juvenile justice and behavioral health policy makers and program developers have recognized the importance of responding to these increased rates of behavioral health and substance use problems among adolescent girls. We now have a better understanding that while males and females are equally vulnerable to addiction, that from a physiological standpoint, females can have lower tolerance and may progressive to physical dependence at different rates. We also have a better understanding of the critical role played by trauma in substance use and addiction as well as a broader range of available approaches for providing gender-specific and trauma-informed treatment. The positive news is that we have seen the rates of illicit substance use significantly decrease for girls from 2008 to 2014 (26.5% versus 23.7%) and decreases in comparison to boys.
Videos from Reclaiming Futures’ annual Leadership Institute held this past June in La Jolla, California, are now available online!
The event, entitled “Public Health and Justice: A Partnership to Promote Equity and Well-being for Youth and Families,” brought together experts in juvenile justice and behavioral health to discuss equity and restorative justice in schools.