The spread of marijuana legalization may account for some of the decline, say the author of the study in the Addictive Behaviors journal. But they add more research is needed to understand the role that peer pressure and behavioral problems play in substance abuse disorders among young people.
The prevalence of drug selling among adolescents has undergone a significant downward trend, falling from 4.1 percent in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015, according to a forthcoming study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Addictive Behaviors.
At the same time, arrests of the general population due to possession and trafficking of illegal substances in 2005 have grown by three times, when compared to drug arrests in 1980, notes the study.
Subsequently, “incarceration for drug offenses (has) risen even more steeply over the past 30 years.”
To address continued youth involvement with drugs, researchers and youth workers must explore the role that behavioral problems play in substance abuse disorders, the study says.
Adolescents’ peers are major sources of obtaining drugs, indicating the pressure teens face to become involved in usage and/or dealing, according to the authors of the study.
Drug dealing is often linked to other risky and delinquent behaviors among youth, making it an imperative topic of research and point of action in our criminal justice system, explains the study.
In order to examine these trends, the study used responses from 233,435 US youth between 12 and 17, collected between 2002 and 2015 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a national survey of persons over the age of 12 about substance use and abuse (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) and mental health issues.
To acquire this data, participants were asked how many times they had sold illegal drugs in the past year. It is important to note that the drug and alcohol portion of the survey were self-reported, meaning the information collected could be subjected to reporting errors due to poor memory or self-biases.
In addition to the prevalence of drug-selling among youth, the survey also recorded the respondents’ gender and ethnicity (restricted to non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic African American and Hispanic) in order to consider additional impactful factors.
The researchers ran a statistical analysis on the prevalence of year among the general sample and then reran the measure to stratify by gender and racial subgroups.
The results found a 40 percent reduction in the prevalence of reported drug-selling among youth—which they called a significant decrease from a 4.1 percent prevalence rate in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015.
More precisely, this decrease in drug-selling was predominately identified in males across all racial groups. Although a significant reduction in selling was found among girls who did not use an illegal substance in the last year, were African American, or were between 15 and 17 years old, the overall trend remained stable for females.
To explain the overall decrease in drug-selling prevalence, the researchers argued that youth with law enforcement was primarily effected by the spread of marijuana decriminalization.
Though all 30 states which have legalized marijuana require an individual to be over the age of 21 to partake in the benefits of the law, the change in legality and subsequent change in acceptability of society may continue to erode the prevalence of drug-dealing among youths, they said.
The study was conducted by Michael G. Vaugh and Katherine J. Holzer of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work; Millan A. AbiNader and Christopher P. Salas-Wright of Boston University’s School of Social Work; and Sehun Oh of the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work.
The complete study is available for purchase here.
This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Laura Binczewski. Readers’ comments are welcome.