Despite some problems discussed in the preceding sections, the overwhelming response of the demonstration sites was that the testing program's many benefits far outweighed any problems encountered. The primary purpose of drug testing for juveniles is to identify those for whom interventions are needed to help them stop using illicit substances. Without such interventions, many are unable to end their substance abuse and may progress to more serious levels of addiction and to crime. Having an impact on delinquent behavior also is difficult without substance abuse intervention. Substance abuse is a central factor in the delinquent behavior of many youth. They may commit drug-related crimes (e.g., possession, trafficking), instrumental crimes to obtain drugs (e.g., robbery, prostitution), or violent crimes resulting from the effects of the psychoactive substance or from drug-related "business" (e.g., assault, murder).

Staff in several sites said that the program allowed them to identify substance-abusing youth who otherwise might not have come to the attention of staff members through other methods. Urine testing of juveniles afforded a much more reliable picture of the extent of substance abuse and a more accurate basis for case planning than simply screening cases for delinquent charges related to alcohol and other drugs. Identification of drug-involved youth through drug testing allows juvenile justice practitioners to develop case plans that are realistic and effective. Having information on substance abuse can help judges make appropriate dispositions. Therefore, drug testing at the youth's earliest encounter with the juvenile justice system (e.g., detention or intake) is recommended. Drug testing also provides a means for juvenile justice professionals to monitor substance-abusing behaviors and observe changes early. Including conditions related to drug testing and appropriate interventions in a juvenile's probation orders gives professionals working with the youth the tools they need to monitor and deter further substance abuse. Many youth who know that they will be tested and that positive results will have consequences can stop their drug use. Others will need the additional help of treatment programs to change substance-abusing behavior.

These benefits of drug testing were evident in the demonstration sites selected by the APPA and
ACA/IBH projects. In both the detention and probation sites, results of tests were used in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • To identify youth who recently used illicit drugs.
  • To request further alcohol and other drug assessments.
  • To make recommendations for court dispositions.
  • To notify parents of a youth's drug involvement.
  • To develop treatment plans for youth.
  • To make referrals to appropriate treatment agencies.

In addition to the benefits of drug testing for individual youth, the testing produced collective information. Agencies used the information gained from drug-testing results to learn more about substance abuse among youth in their communities. They were able to determine which illicit drugs were most popular among youth and to follow changing trends in psychoactive substance use. In one community, collective data helped juvenile justice personnel learn PCP was being used almost exclusively by youth in a particular ZIP Code area. They provided this information to police for greater surveillance in this area.

The training provided to staff members who implemented the testing programs also was beneficial. They learned about the effects of psychoactive substances on juveniles, and some reported they felt more confident in working with drug-involved youth.

Another benefit reported by several sites that perhaps was not anticipated initially was the positive response from parents about the drug-testing program. Several sites reported that parents eagerly endorsed the program and appreciated efforts to intervene with their substance-abusing children.

Drug Identification and Testing in the Juvenile Justice System May 1998