$4.8 million NIH grant to fund IUSM research on drug abuse and juvenile justice
Youth who enter the juvenile justice system are at a high risk of becoming drug users, according to a researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine. That researcher, Matt Aalsma, a professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, wants to change that dangerous course for at-risk offenders.
Aalsma has received a nearly $4.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study justice-involved youth experiencing substance use disorders. The five-year grant will allow Aalsma’s team to continue work that is part of IU's Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge.
Among youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system, drug overdose is a leading cause of death, second only to homicide. Although a number of practices have been shown to be effective in helping teens avoid or overcome substance use disorder, they are rarely provided to justice-involved youth, and this population is less likely than other teens to access any type of substance use services.
"Our academic team is excited to collaborate with Indiana state court and treatment partners, as well as county-level court and communal health system collaborators, to improve the health of justice-involved youth," Aalsma said.
He and his team have been working with caseworkers and probation departments in Indiana to implement screening for drug use at the time a youth enters the juvenile justice system. Aalsma says that precise moment is when the young offenders are most motivated to make a change.
Aalsma has been working in Tippecanoe and Wayne counties and has trained dozens of mental health practitioners. The grant will allow his team to expand that work across eight counties over the next five years. It also allows the team to be a part of the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network, established by the National Institutes of Health to support research on quality addiction treatment for opioid use disorder in criminal justice settings nationwide.
"Indiana juvenile courts and communal health systems are at the front line of providing care for youth," Aalsma said. "We anticipate our project will improve access and utilization of needed substance use treatment for vulnerable youth involved in a complex justice system. We also hope this effort will create closer partnerships between the court and community mental health systems."