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Latest SANDAG report shows more than half of juvenile arrestees in the region test positive for drugs

SAN DIEGO COUNTY – More than half of the juveniles arrested in San Diego County in 2009 tested positive for at least one drug, and marijuana use is on the increase while methamphetamine use has declined, according to an annual study conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

“Overall, the data show that youth booked into Juvenile Hall continue to face a number of risk factors that require communities and systems of care to continue to work together,” said SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research Dr. Cynthia Burke. “Program and policy leaders need support as they target prevention and intervention efforts, particularly those that focus on family-based treatment, parental education, truancy, and pro-social activities.”

Among the youth interviewed and tested for the study, 53 percent tested positive for some type of drug after their arrest. Marijuana was the most common drug found, with 51 percent testing positive at the time of arrest. That was up from 44 percent in 2008 and 40 percent in 2007 – which reflects a national trend.

At the same time, positive tests for methamphetamine dropped to six percent – down from ten percent in 2008, and a 10-year high of 21 percent in 2005.

The SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division detailed the findings in the 2009 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region report. As part of the study, a total of 159 youth were interviewed at Juvenile Hall in San Diego during two separate months in 2009. Of those, 154 (120 males and 34 females) provided urine samples for drug testing. The annual survey compares the results to previous years. It also analyses risk factors and how they may be related to drug use.

Other trends revealed in the data include:

Only 29 percent of marijuana users think the drug has negative effects on health, suggesting a need for increased outreach and education.

Substance use by juveniles was related to other risky behavior, with about two in five, 43 percent, reporting they had been a passenger in a car with someone who had been drinking or using drugs. One in five juveniles, 18 percent, reported they had driven after drinking or using drugs.

Nearly two in five youth, 38 percent, reported that they had some previous involvement in drug distribution, even though this was not the most serious arrest charge for most.

Half, 50 percent, of the youth interviewed reported a parent and around two in five, 42 percent, said a sibling had previously been arrested and booked, demonstrating the existence of multiple family issues for many of these youth.

A statistically significant relationship was found between running away and youth and parent substance use.

The complete report is available at


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