Drugs Contribute to High Rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among Juvenile Offenders

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In a study of 948 newly arrested youths undergoing criminal justice intake processing in Tampa, Florida, more than 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys tested positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or both infections. Dr. Richard Dembo and colleagues from the University of South Florida, Tampa, and Temple University, Philadelphia, found correlations between the youths' prevalence of these sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and their cocaine and marijuana use, as confirmed by urine tests. The youths' responses to a survey provided additional evidence of a prominent role for drug abuse as a risk factor for STDs. Sexual activity while using noninjected drugs was, at 8 percent, the second most commonly reported risk factor among boys and, at 9 percent, the third most common among girls. The primary STD risk factor for both sexes, at 21 percent for boys and 24 percent for girls, was heterosexual intercourse without a condom; the second most common for girls, at 10 percent, was sexual assault. The researchers say that their study results indicate a need to offer STD testing and treatment to all newly arrested juveniles, especially girls, to improve the health of a population that often lacks access to health care.
Journal of Behavioral Medicine 32(2):129–141, 2009. [Full Text (PDF, 86KB)]