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New Sandag Report Finds In Substance Abuse Down Slightly Among Juveniles in 2020

September 30, 2021 - Three in Five Detained Youth Tested Positive for at Least One Drug 

Drug use among juvenile arrestees in the San Diego region was down slightly in 2020, according to a new SANDAG report, 2020 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region. In 2020, 60% of the youth interviewed tested positive for at least one illicit drug, lower than the 62% in 2019, but still the second highest positive rate since 2000.

Nearly all (96%) of the juveniles interviewed in 2020 reported ever trying an illicit substance and the majority also reported recent use of at least one of these substances – 90% in the last year and 82% in the last 30 days. In addition, two-thirds (67%) reported having tried all three gateway drugs (alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana). 

The youth surveyed were asked about their perception and use of various drugs, and the study found that over time, a greater percentage of those interviewed reported that marijuana was the first drug they ever tried in 2020 (46%). Fewer perceived that marijuana could be “extremely” or “very bad” for a user (20%). Of those juveniles who ever tried marijuana, first use was around the age of 11, and of those who used over the past 30 days, used it for just over 18 days on average.

“Last year was an unprecedented year that affected all of us, including our youth,” said SANDAG Director of Research and Program Management Dr. Cynthia Burke. “It is important to note that over time the justice system has focused on detaining fewer youth in custody, which has affected the populations we interview. The juveniles who are detained are exposed to variety of risk factors and lack support that we as a community have a responsibility to address. Our goal with information from this report is to shed light on opportunities for continued collaboration.”

Other notable highlights among juveniles booked in 2020 include:

- 54% of youth reported abusing prescription drugs

- 48% reported contact with the Child Welfare System and 44% been in foster care

- 46% have been diagnosed with mental health issues and 26% have thought about killing themselves

- More than four-fifths (84%) have ever vaped and two-thirds of these youth have vaped at school

To learn more, view the SANDAG CJ Bulletin: 2020 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.

For a full breakdown of the data collected, view SANDAG CJ Aggregate Data September 2021

For a two-page summary of this report, view the SANDAG CJ Flash.   
 Since 2000, SANDAG, through its Substance Abuse Monitoring program, has conducted interviews in local detention facilities. The program helps identify drug use trends among adult and juvenile offender populations to develop prevention strategies for the San Diego region. 

Since 1980, SANDAG has reported crime statistics for the San Diego region through a cooperative agreement with local law enforcement agencies. These data are used by local law enforcement, policymakers, and the community to track public safety over time and the effectiveness of crime prevention and response efforts. Looking into the future, SANDAG will continue to use data to understand current trends to inform and create a fairer region.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or pio@sandag.org.